holi festival

Where to Celebrate Holi in India – Holi 2019

Where to Celebrate Holi in India – 2019

Holi is the festival that celebrates spring in India. One among the major festivals of India, it is celebrated all across the country with a great deal of zest and enthusiasm. The air is coloured in different shades of spring as the aroma of burnt wood from the previous night of ‘Holika dahan’ starts drifting away with the morning mist.

Amitabh Bachchan’s low baritone voice singing ‘rang barse bheege chunar waali’ has become the theme song of this festival. Memories of Holi never cloud the mind with sad faces. It is all about colourful portraits of smiling faces  with the echoes of ‘Holi haii’ filling the atmosphere.

Holi is celebrated even outside India like in Nepal, Trinidad, United States to name a few, but some places stand out for the different way in which they celebrate Holi. As goes with the land of diversity, celebrations of Holi also take on different colours as the people interweave their culture and their stories to the universal festival of love and harmonious co existence. Here are 5 places to visit this holi if you are seeking a new experience of its age old traditions.

Holi 2019 at Barsana & Nandgaon – Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh brings to one’s mind a certain flavourful kind of a state. This is a state whose language leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth if you are speaking to the local people in their ‘UP wali bhasha’. It’s a rangeela state full of rangeela people.

Speaking of rangeela, Barsana is a quaint village in UP, approximately 50 kms from Mathura. If you want to celebrate Holi the traditional way, Barsana is the place for you. Here people celebrate Holi by playing ‘lathmar holi’ where women folk beat men with sticks and men protect themselves by throwing coloured powder on the women or by using a cushion-shield to protect themselves from the blow.

According to mythology Barsana is the place Radha (Lord Krishna’s love interest) was born and Nandgaon, the neighbouring village is the place Krishna was born. It is said that on the day of Holi, Krishna along with his friends, went to Barsana from Nandgaon and started teasing and wooing Radha and her friends. In retaliation, Radha and her friends drove the boys from their illage by using sticks. His tradition is still followed today in the form of ‘Lathmaar Holi’.

According to tradition, men from Nandgaon come to Barsana and start teasing and wooing the women through songs etc and the women then retaliate by beating the men with sticks. The men save themselves by a cushion shield that they carry around on the day. The ones who are caught by the women have to wear women’s clothing and sing and dance. All the celebrations unfurl in the famous Radha Rani Temple at Barsana. The only temple in India dedicated to her.

The next day, men from Barsana go to Nandgaon to do the same. Sometimes even eunuchs and men dressed as women go to Nandgaon from Barsana to play holi. The ‘women’ are then drenched in coloured powder and water colours. Even pundits from the temples throw coloured powder on the devotees chanting ‘Radhey-Radhey’. In the temple courtyard, people from both the villages sit and sing songs of Krishna and Radha and dance to melodious tunes. This event is called ‘Samaaj’. The whole tradition of ‘Lathmaar holi’ is to immortalise Radha and Krishna’s love story. For one day the men of Nandgaon and Barsana become incarnates of Krishna and the women, the incarnates of Radha or Ladli ji as she is fondly called in Barsana.

The actual dates of Lathmaar Holi are not fixed as it happens days before actual Holi celebrations commence all across the nation.

Reaching Barsana

Train: The nearest railway station to Barsana is Kosi Kalan (10 kms). The more suggested railway station is Mathura railway station (50 kms) where most Indian trains stop.

Flight: There are no airports in Barsana. The closest airport to Barsana is Agra airport at 70 kms. You can hire a taxi to take you the rest of the way.

Bus: Barsana is well connected to the cities of Mathura, Delhi and Agra. You can get UPSRTC buses (govt buses) or private buses to go there.

Holi 2019 at Pushkar – Rajasthan

Pushkar is a small town in the state of Rajasthan, surrounded by hill locks and in the middle of which is a lake. Pushkar is known for its lake, it was named after it. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe, dropped a flower on the ground and from the impact, out sprung water, creating a lake. Brahma decided to name the lake after the flower itself hence the name Pushkar. Thus, it is here, in this small little quaint town that the only Brahma temple in the whole world in situated at. Thus, mostly a pilgrimage city for all those who want to attain ‘moksha’ or salvation, who knew that the beautiful and serene little town of Pushkar will also be as famous as other cities for the festival of colours.

Holi in Pushkar starts as usual as in other cities and towns of India. The night before the celebrations start, a huge bonfire is lit to mark ‘holika dahan’. After the night air douses the fire to ashen smoke, people covering their eyes, go to collect the holy ash from the burning embers and take it back home. The next day begins with furore as people run amuck in the streets throwing powdered colour as well as spraying water colours everywhere and on everyone.  In the city square, there is a huge party with loud music playing on speakers, where everyone is invited free of cost. A line of wire runs through above the raving party and people (mostly men) remove their top garments and hang them on it. Thus the name, ‘kapda faad’ holi emerged, which literally translates into ‘tearing clothes’.  

Here no one is spared, from foreigners to Indians, everyone is treated as a blank canvas to be coloured. Thus, women should be a little careful of going into crowded areas alone as being safe is the best possible way to enjoy this festival of spring in Pushkar.

Reaching Pushkar

Train: Take a train from any major Indian city to Ajmer from where you can either take a 30 minute drive or take a train to Pushkar.

Flight: As Pushkar does not have an airport, the nearest airport is in Jaipur which is approximately 140 kms from Pushkar. It is a 3 hour ride then from the airport to the city. You can pre-book a taxi or a cab which can take you there.

Bus: Buses are available from Delhi to Pushkar or from cities in Rajasthan to Pushkar.

Holi 2019 at Shantiniketan – West Bengal

Whether you are or aren’t a Bengali, the word ‘Shantiniketan’ will inadvertently bring to the mind visuals of Rabindranath Tagore and you will hear the breeze play you, ever so softly, his sangeet. Shantiniketan is a place made famous by India’s celebrated noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore, not only for all that he has done for Indian art and culture in the small town but also for establishing the ‘Vishva Bharati University’ at Shantiniketan, among whose notable alumni are names like India’s first woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Acclaimed film director Satyajit Ray and the famous Indian economist Amartya Sen.

The annual event of “Basanta Utsav” is celebrated with much fervour in the renowned university of Vishva Bharati. The festival was first started by the great poet Rabindranath Tagore himself and celebrates the oncoming of the season of bloom, spring as the name “Basanta Utsav” literally translates into “festival of spring”. The day is marked on “Dol Purnima” which comes during the month of Falgun according to the Bengali calendar.  People are seen adorning yellow coloured attires, as yellow is considered as one of the most prominent colours of spring, which suits the occasion and students and teachers in the university play sing or dance on the melodious tunes of “Rabindra Sangeet” or Rabindranath Tagore’s own penned down songs. In the true spirit of celebrating the season of multifold colours, people also throw “abeer” or coloured powder on each other. The evening usually concludes in the dramatization of one of Rabindranath Tagore’s plays, put up by the students of the university.

Although similar to Holi, the date of Basanta Utsab may differ from the date of the annual Holi celebrations all across India. Nonetheless, it is a sight and atmosphere to experience at least once in your lifetime.

Reaching Shantiniketan

Train: You can take a train from any major Indian city to BHP which is the Bolpur Shantiniketan Railway Station. If you wish to take a train from Kolkata, please refer to the train timings at the stations of Howrah and Sealdah.

Flight: There are no airports in Shantiniketan. However, if you wish you can take a plane to Netaji Subhash Chandra Airport, Kolkata, West Bengal. From Kolkata, you can take a train to Shantiniketan which takes within 2 hours to reach.

Bus: No bus routes are available from any major Indian city to Shantiniketan. The nearest bus stand to Bolpur is Panagarh which is approximately 34 kms from there.

Holi 2019 at Barpeta – Assam

Ever heard of the celebrations of Holi in the Northeast India? If your answer is ‘no’, it does not surprise me, as for the most part, our beautiful northeast has been neglected so much that we treat it as a different nation. However, if your answer is ‘yes’, then congratulations on your amazing general knowledge.

Barpeta is a quaint city approximately 90 kms northwest of Guwahati, the seat of the capital of Assam i.e. Dispur. Also known as “Barpeta Satara” or “Satara Nagari”, the place is popular as the ‘temple city’ of Assam. The city is a hub of ‘vaishnavism’ (a socio- religious sect which worships Lord Vishnu) as it is believed that the great Assamese reformer Sri Srimanta Shankardev and his disciple Sri Sri Madhavdev laid the strong foundation of the Assamese culture back in the 16th century, in Barpeta. The foundation was made strong through his socio-religious Vaishnava reform movement.  No wonder Barpeta is also known as the Dwarka or Mathura of Assam.

Barpeta celebrates its own version of Holi called ‘doul utsav’ or ‘fakuwa’. The celebrations go on for 3 to 5 days which is followed by Barpeta’s residents with much zeal and enthusiasm. The festival celebrates the marriage union of Krishna with his wife, Rukmini. The first day is called ‘Gandha’ which is celebrated with lighting a huge bonfire called ‘Meji’ and the marriage ceremony of the two. The ceremony is called ‘Meji puoa’.  After the huge ceremony on an auspicious time of the night, the idols, which were brought from the prayer hall or ‘Manikut’, are placed at ‘Doul ghar’ and people sing ‘holigeet’ all night.

The rest of the days, which begin from ‘Bhar doul’ (first day of the full moon) to ‘Phakua’, the last day, people come onto the streets and play with powdered colours or water colours, as they like it. In the evening of last day, people come together to take back the idols from ‘Doul Ghar’ to ‘Manikut’ and a drum is specially played with 108 beats which finally marks the end of the festival.

Holi is celebrated all across India and like its people, has different forms and varieties which add a flavour to the colours that redolent the air.

Reaching Barpeta

Train: All major Indian cities offer direct trains to Barpeta. The nearest railway station is Barpeta Road (BPRD) (18 kms from Barpeta) and TIHU. If you wish to take a train from Guwahati, the nearest railway station to Guwahati airport is Guagachha at 19 kms. Please do check for train timings.

Flight: Barpeta does not have its own airport. Nearest airport to Barpeta is Borjhar airport, Guwahati, which is 71 kms away. There are taxis outside the airport which can, however, take you to Barpeta.

Bus: Private and government run buses ply on the route to Barpeta from Guwahati. No other Indian major city has buses directly to Barpeta.

Holi 2019 at Anandpur Sahib – Punjab

Punjab is a state that when reminded of, fills you up with boisterous feelings of fun and laughter with a little tunak tunak tun here and a little bolo tararara there. Punjab amalgamates within itself everything our nation now stands on, bouyant fields, brave men and women who serve to protect and of course, religion, where Sikhism took birth.

Guru Tegh Bahadur, the ninth guru of the Sikhs founded the sacred city of Anandpur Sahib in 1665, then known as Chak Nanaki. It is here that ‘Holla Mohalla’ is celebrated every year in the month of ‘Chait’. Holla Mohalla is celebrated a day after Holi and was started by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru, in 1757. The celebrations showcase an array of mock fights, and displays of both swordsmanship and horsemanship. It is also on this auspicious day that members of the Sikh army founded by Guru Gobind Singh against the Mughals, The Nihangs have a parade on horses while they shower colour on the crowd gathered. They also show off their skills in mock battles or ‘Gatka’ which is as thrilling as it sounds.

It is said that Guru Gobind Singh started this event for the Sikhs to practice their military prowess. Others also say that the Guru thought that Holi as a harmonious day had lost all its meaning and thus, he decided to integrate the spirit of Holi with the spirit of Khalsa. Thus, Holla Mohalla is also seen as a day to revive in the people, the spirit of the khalsa panth.

On this day, apart from the martial arts, there are also religious lectures held in gurudwaras across Anandpur Sahib. There are langars set out for people visiting the place and also avid poetry readings about the gallant Guru Gobind Singh.

Colours, though an important part of Holi, is not the only part. Different cultures across India celebrate their own holi, each different and gleeful.

Reaching Anandpur Sahib

Train: All major Indian cities have trains going to Anandpur Sahib station (ANSB). Do check train timings at your nearest respective station.

Flight: Although Anandpur Sahib does not have an airport, the nearest airport you can land in is Chandigarh airport (65 kms away) and reach Anandpur by a car or bus in under two hours.

Bus: All Indian major cities have buses plying to Anandpur Sahib.

Do share your inputs on locations for Celebrating Holi you think should be on the list. We will update the same with credits to you. We wish you a colorful Holi 2019.

Written by Rishira Ganguly

Curated by Ishita Ganguly

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4 thoughts on “Where to Celebrate Holi in India – Holi 2019

  1. Guwahati is not the capital of Assam.

    1. Hi AJ…Thanks for pointing out the error 🙂 It is the seat of the capital, Dispur as we have gone on to mention. Hope we got the festivities right 🙂

  2. U missed Indore holi… full of colors… holi procession is best on rangpachmi

    1. thank you so much neeraj for the suggestion. will definitely research more on it.

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