Celebrating India’s Colourful Holi Festival

On my final morning in Agra I woke up to hear a woosh under my door. I hopped over my duvet and slit open an envelope which carried the following note from the GM of my hotel:

On this auspicious day we wish to take the opportunity to wish your family and loved ones a very Happy Holi.

One of the major festivals of India, Holi is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety on the full moon (Purnima) in the month of Phalgun which is the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar. Holi festival may be celebrated with various names and people of different states might be following different traditions. But, what makes Holi so unique and special is its spirit which remains the same throughout the country and even across the globe, wherever it is celebrated.

Womenfolk start making early preparations for Holi as they cook loads of gujiya, mthri, papri and thandai (Indian sweets and savouries) for family and relatives. Celebrations start with a bonfire which symbolizes victory of good over evil on the night before Holi where people gather to sing and dance. The next morning is a free for all carnival of colours, where everyone plays, chases and colours each other with pigment powder. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. The frolic and fight with colours occurs in open streets, parks and outside temples.

Holi Festival Tips in Agra

  • Please check for dermal and optical allergies and dress appropriately to avoid staining valuable garments.
  • Management is not responsible for any claims on these fronts.
  • Please contact Housekeeping for discarded towels so fresh linen is not spoilt. In case of damage to fresh linen/property, charges will be borne by the guest.

I couldn’t help but let out a giggle as I read the note, never have I had a hotel send an advisory such as this during a festival. The previous evening I asked my guide about Holi and how we would be celebrating. He chirped, “We do not suggest foreigners walk the streets on their own. Stay inside during the morning and afternoon it’s much safer for you. During Holi foreigners are often targeted by rambunctious locals and for many the festival is an excuse to drink and act drunk on the street. Police don’t guard the streets until the afternoon once the party is finished so it really is a free-for-all!”

Holi is most actively celebrated in India’s north and situating yourself in Agra is a great idea as locals are used to taking care of tourists and ensuring they have a fun and authentic experience. Each year during Holi Agra’s Kalakriti Theatre hosts a fabulous private party so that curious visitors can enjoy the festival in an intimate atmosphere where Bollywood ballads, performances by local dancers and acrobats and good food make for a memorable party.

Shortly after breakfast I hopped in a car and rolled towards the theatre. I couldn’t help but smile as I spotted two local boys peddling on their bikes and an old granny strolling along the sidewalk, all covered in a rainbow of pigments. At Kalakriti visitors were welcomed by high rope walker, gent on stilts and an energetic group of local Bollywood dancers. Popular Hindi club beats blasted into the scorching heat as streaks of colour flied through the air.

After a string of energetic and playful group performances everyone lined up for a lunch buffet featuring steamed basmati, crispy pakoras and spicy masala. As I eagerly devoured my lunch in the shade I couldn’t help but appreciate the sea of tie dye’d faces which smiled before me. Holi is a surprising festival which encourages its participants to let go of their inhibitions and dive into a happy holiday to celebrate Spring, love, frolic and colours. If only we could do this every day…

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