Indian cities that go all out for Holi

Indian cities that go all out for Holi

When the month of phalgun comes around—the 12th lunar month in the Hindu calendar—the onset of spring often coincides with the celebration of Holi in India. The festival is celebrated over two days to observe Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi when a bonfire is held to wade off the evil (the day before the full moon) and the national celebration day after which is all about the gulal-drenced merrymaking. With more people looking to go local and combine their Holi celebration with a cultural foray into the places that have a rich history associated with the festival, domestic tourism has soared compared to 2023. “Data indicates surge from not only from metros and mini-metros but also our Regional tier 2 and 3 cities,” confirms Daniel D’souza, President & Country Head, SOTC Travel.

With more people looking to go local and combine their Holi celebration with a cultural foray into the places that have a rich history associated with the festival, domestic tourism has soared compared to 2023.

This year on March 25, here’s how these places with the rich heritage and charm of Holi are gearing up to get doused in colours, resurrect history through traditions, and a mini-guide for visitors who are planning to travel for the much-awaited festival of colours.

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Barsana and Nandgaon, Uttar Pradesh

In Barsana, the spectacle of women playfully beating up men with lathis is a cultural highlight. A tradition based on folklore, the historical town of Barsana is believed to be Radha’s hometown where she and other gopis would come together to get into a fun battle to ward off Krishna and his cohort who would come from Nandgaon. Aim to join in on the parade fun early and then plan a temple-hopping tour of Maan Mandir Ghat, Shriji Temple, Gahvar Van and more to soak in the culture. “Spiritual travel is witnessing a strong uptick with increased interest to celebrate the festival in locales like Barsana, Nandgaon, Mathura, Gokul and Dau-G centred around the life and times of Lord Krishna,” explains Rajeev Kale – President & Country Head, Thomas Cook (India) Limited.

Mathura and Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh

Located at a distance of 15 kilometres from each other, the twin sacred cities of Uttar Pradesh are popular for their weeklong ‘Braj ki holi’ (named after the region). In Vrindavan, a ritualistic celebration around the Banke Bihari Temple takes centre stage with the observance of Phoolonwali Holi which is derived from the priest showering devotees with flowers around the evening. Another recently introduced custom is the Widows’ Holi where widows, dressed in white celebrated the festival in Gopinath Temple last year—a symbol of defiance against the taboo. In Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, landmarks like Dwarkadhish Temple, Vishram Ghat and Holi Gate attract the most crowds with a grand processing taking place connecting these locations.

Anandpur Sahib, Punjab

In Punjab, coinciding with the festival of Holi is the regional event of Hola Mohalla taking place between 25th March to 27th March in 2024. People gather at the Charan Ganga Stadium in Anandpur Sahib to celebrate brotherhood, community and valour, particularly for Nihang Sikhs, the eighth descendent of a Khalsa warrior, a Sikh warrior order. The tenth Sikh leader, Guru Gobind Singh laid the foundation of the present-day event in the 17th century. The three-day event is a platform for the Sikhs to showcase their martial skills in simulated battles. “Visitors can take part in the early morning prayer, enjoy the taste of traditional food at the community langar and participate in doing ‘seva’ at the local gurudwara to immerse themselves in the spirit of the festival,” shares Akash Garg Singh.

Where: Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib in Anandpur

Shantiniketan, West Bengal

Basant Utsav—a special occasion introduced by polymath Rabindranath Tagore—is a local rendition of Holi celebrated to mark the arrival of the spring season and the last festival of the year per the Bengali calendar. In Shantiniketan’s Visva Bharati University near the town of Bolpur, the celebration comes alive with renditions of Rabindra Sangeet as a part of cultural programmes, and dramatic presentations of works of Tagore and Abir play. People from across the country and abroad come to join the locals as they wear Basanti (a shade of yellow) coloured garments and take part in the festivities. Explore Visva Bharati University, Amar Kutir, Tagore’s Ashram, Kala Bhavana, Chhatimtala and Patha Bhavan on a guided tour before heading to local eateries like Banalakshmi and Ghare Baire to try the classic maach, mangsho with bhaat or specials during the festival season like mutton ghughni and coconut gujiya.

Kumaoni Holi, Uttarakhand

Stretching over the eastern half of the state, the Kuman region is a cultural hotspot, beyond and on the day of Holi. Depicting the victory of greatness over evil along with the end of the colder months, Kumaoni Holi holds three distinct forms of celebration, Baithki Holi (also known as Nirvan ki Holi), the Khari Holi, and the Mahila Holi. The “Baithhaks” are marked by women singing ragas with men attending the show. In Khari Holi, which literally translates to ‘standing Holi’, tolis of men dressed up in traditional white nokdaar topi and kurta-pajama to sing and dance to the tune of dhol and hurka. The ‘Khari’ tunes are supposedly more Kumaoni in comparison to the Baithki ragas. Mahila Holi is a post-Basant celebration where women visit their friends to sing and dance, manifesting a prosperous harvest season ahead. Opt for a homestay in Almora or Bageshwar and explore the cave of Patal Bhubhaneshwar and the famous temples of Jageshwar, Bageshwar, and Almora, where you will find local communities celebrating Holi in the Kumaoni spirit.

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