For years you’ve seen photos and videos of Holi celebrations in Vrindavan – one big party of colours, bhang and music. There are, however, a few other places in India where the party is just as fun, full of tradition, (sometimes strange) legends, and colourful. So, here are some of those places you can visit when you can’t make it to Mathura.
- Basanta Utsav in Shantiniketan (West Bengal)
Celebrated as the Spring Festival in West Bengal, Holi is not just a splash of colours here. This old tradition was reintroduced by Rabindranath Tagore himself. The students of Vishwa Bharati University in Shantiniketan dress in the colours of spring, especially yellow – complete with marigold flowers – and perform folk dances, dances to Rabindra Sangeet, and other cultural events. This celebration of song and dance is followed by the playing with the colours. The celebrations start on the day before Holi, so plan accordingly.
- Lathmar Holi in Barsana and Nandgaon (Uttar Pradesh)
Lord Krishna is from Nandgaon and his beloved Radha from Barsana. Following legend and tradition, the men from Nandgaon visit Barsana to tease its women, following which the Barsana women playfully beat up the Nandgaon men. This strange, yet exuberant and lively celebration of the festival of colours start nearly a week in advance, and it’s a joyful party for days. Be warned, though, that it’s going to be rather crowded and spirits are high!
- Kumaoni Holi in Kumaon (Uttarakhand)
Another culturally-rich celebration of song and dance, the Kumaoni Holi is a long festival to signify the end of winter and the beginning of sowing season. The people of this region have three types of celebrations: Bathak Holi – this is when close family and friends sit together and sing songs; Khari Holi – meaning “standing Holi”, this celebration involves the Kumaoni men singing and dancing while wearing traditional attire; Mahila Holi – this is celebrated by women by singing songs about love and spirituality.
- Holi with Baul in Purulia (West Bengal)
The Basanta Utsav is celebrated in Purulia also. Here, it’s a celebration of the Purulia people’s unique folk songs, dance and arts. This place is special because of the participation of the Baul musicians who sing their beautiful songs to bring in the spring season. Dance to the beating of drums and have a grand time playing with the colours of Holi.
- Royal Holi in Jaipur and Udaipur (Rajasthan)
The stereotypical festival celebration in India can be witnessed during Holi in Jaipur. A parade, complete with decorated elephants, camels, horses, and Rajasthanis dancing to folk music dressed in their beautiful, colourful traditional outfits, is a major part of the festival here. Udaipur also witnesses pomp and show with bonfires lit on the nights of Holi celebration to ward off evil spirits, the backdrop of historical buildings and palaces providing a memorable sight. A procession with the royal band from the royal residence to Manek Chowk at the City Palace includes bedecked horses.
- Shigmotsav Holi in Panjim, Margoao and Vasco (Goa)
Shigmotsav in Goa is a 14-day-long celebration of Holi to celebrate and honour the homecoming of warriors who fought the invaders at the end of Dasara. Folk dances are performed along the roads by dance troupes during the parade, and this is accompanied by the participation of the natives in their boats. Vhadlo Shigmo, or big Shigmo, is celebrated by all, and the Dhakto Shigmo, or small Shigmo, is celebrated by farmers and rural communities.
- Warrior Holi in Anandpur Sahib (Punjab)
Warriors are honoured not only in Goa but also in Punjab, the land of the warriors. The Sikhs of this region started the celebration of Holi in their community in the 16th century having been introduced to it by Sikh Guru Gobind Singh. Instead of a play with colours, however, you’ll witness here the demonstration of physical agility of the warriors who perform wrestling, acrobatic military exercises, mock sword fights, martial arts, and turban tying. These are followed by kirtan, music and poetry competitions.
- Heritage land Holi in Hampi (Karnataka)
Although the celebration of Holi is mostly restricted to the North and West of India, Hampi in the South makes sure it doesn’t miss out on the fun. It’s plain fun in Hampi during Holi as both the natives and tourists participate in a celebration of throwing coloured powders and coloured water. The heritage landmarks and temples and ruins add to the ambience of a true Indian festival. Everyone goes for a dip in Tungabhadra River towards the end of the day.
Travel to the place nearest to you this Holi season to witness cultures and traditions of local communities come more alive than ever. Make sure your backpacks are waterproof and your watches (if you insist on wearing them) water-resistant so they survive this mayhem of water and colours. Happy Holi!