Holi in Rajasthan is perhaps the most kaleidoscopically-vibrant scene on earth. It is, after all, the ‘Festival of Colour’.
They say there are more festivals in India than days of the year! Yet none are more vibrant, playful and joyous than Holi, and nowhere – in our opinion – are the celebrations more spirited than in Rajasthan. As tried-and-tested specialists in this specific corner of the world, let us guide you on how best to celebrate Holi in Rajasthan:
What is Holi? How do they celebrate Holi in Rajasthan?
Celebrated primarily by Hindus, but nowadays rejoiced by Indians of all religions alike, the Holi festival symbolises the triumph of good over evil and coincides with the beginning of spring. It is often affectionately described as the ‘Festival of Colours’ thanks to the tradition of playfully tossing gulaal (brightly powdered pigments) at one another and into the air until everyone is covered in the kaleidoscopic stuff!
The festival actually spans over two days. The first day of Holi in Rajasthan and much of India is known as Holika Dahan; the second day – the main, colourful event – is Rang-wali Holi:
1st Day: Holika Dahan
Hindu mythology tells us that long ago, there was once a powerful king named Hiranyakashipu. While he considered himself to be God and wished that everyone in his kingdom worship him accordingly, he was devilishly evil and despised for his cruelty. The king’s own son, Prahlada, was a devotee of the Hindu god Vishnu and straight-up refused to worship his father. This angered Hiranyakashipu to the point that he attempted to kill his son a number of times, but strangely nothing worked. So the king turned to his evil sister, Holika – who was immune to fire, for help. To get rid of Prahlada once and for all, she tricked him into sitting with her on a bonfire. Unfortunately for Holika, her special fire-immunity powers became ineffective thanks to her ill intentions and hence she burned to ash. Prahlaha on the other hand gained her immunity and was saved. This is why the first day of the Holi festival is known as Holika Dahan and is celebrated by lighting bonfires to symbolize the victory of good over evil.
2nd Day: Rang-wali Holi
Rang-wali Holi – or ‘colourful Holi’ – is a celebration of the Hindu god Krishna and his love, Radha. It is believed that when Krishna was a baby, his skin turned a distinctive blue colour after having drunk the poisoned milk of the demon Putana. As Krishna grew up, he felt sad about this and concerned as to whether the fair-coloured Radha would ever like him because of his blue hue. Seeing his desperation, Krishna’s mother instructed him to cover Radha’s face in any colour he wanted. When Krisha did so, they became a loving couple and ever since people have been dowsing one another in colour on the festival of Holi.
These days, the colour-throwing festivities mostly take place in the morning. Into the afternoon, people clean themselves up (or not!) and head out to visit friends and family and exchange sweets and other festive dishes. Holi brings people of all casts and creed together. And it helps reminds them to believe in the virtue of honesty and truth to fight evil.
When is Holi celebrated?
Like many other festivals in Rajasthan, the exact date differs year to year depending on the lunar calendar, though it’s almost always in the month of March. This year, in 2021 it will fall on Monday, 29 March and in 2022 it’ll be on Friday, 18 March.
How can I celebrate Holi in Rajasthan?
Holi is celebrated throughout the subcontinent and these days further afield, too. But, in our opinion, nowhere is the festival more bright and merry than in Rajasthan. Rajasthan is already a land of dazzlingly bright hues, yet the colourful appeal only heightens during Holi and the celebrations here are as high-spirited as they get.
Holi is terrific wherever you decide to spend it, and anyone from anywhere in Rajasthan will tell you that their city is the best place to celebrate! At Indian Excursions Co., our tours are highly personalised, and our recommendation for you will depend on your individual tastes and interests. For someone who’d like to get stuck into Holi and experience this colourful festival in all its authentic glory, we suggest Udaipur in southern Rajasthan. Here, we can arrange for you to celebrate Holi with a local family and learn what it’s all about in a friendly, safe environment. Being with a real Rajasthani family ensures you’re introduced to a wholly authentic experience, embracing the festival the way the locals do, far from touristy, sanitized versions that you’ll find elsewhere. Here, we’ll welcome you into one of our top local guide’s homes to spend the morning with them, getting stuck into colour throwing with the family and enjoying festive sweets. You’d return to your hotel at noonish to spend the rest of the day at leisure (the vast majority of monuments are closed on the day of Holi, so there is little to do in terms of sightseeing on this day).
Another reason we feel Udaipur is the best place to spend the Holi festival in Rajasthan is the grand Holika Dahan ceremony hosted by the Maharaja of Udaipur at the City Palace. Each year, on the eve of Holi, the royal family light a huge pyre and perform various rituals as they have for generations. Nowadays, the Maharaja invites a limited number of special visitors to take part in the celebrations with his family at the City Palace, and Indian Excursions Co can get you in. After the pyre-lighting, there’s a magical firework show and lots of delicious nibbles and refreshments to enjoy. This is truly a unique experience and one that most visitors to the region miss out on.
For a quieter affair, we recommend spending Holi in Rajasthan’s countryside. For example, the luxury homestay Dev Shree in Deogarh is a great option. Here, you can celebrate the festival authentically with the host’s family and a select number of other guests. The hosts of Dev Shree – Shatrunjai and Bhavna – are descendants of the Deogarh royal family and have a wealth of stories and information to share.
“Wherever you spend Holi, know that:
Your clothes will likely need the bin afterwards. Wear something that you’re not precious about staining. We can help with arranging simple, white cottons if you like.
Protect your eyes with sunglasses, and protect your skin and hair with natural oils like a layer of coconut oil. The oil makes the powder easier to wash off. You may need a good scrub or two to get the stuff off your skin. Locals swear by yogurt and chickpea flour to remove the colour quickly. Keep valuable electronics out of the way while throwing colours.
If you don’t want to be thrown paint at, don’t go out!
Enjoy it! The most important tip of mine overall, is to let loose and have fun with this wonderful tradition. Especially when you have the comfort of knowing your trusted tour operator is on hand to help with advice, experience, and tried-and-tested locations.” – Madeleine Hann, Co-Founder of Indian Excursions Co.
Jaipur is a colourful place to spend Holi in Rajasthan, too. In years gone by, there was an Elephant Festival held in Jaipur on the day of the festival, though this has recently rightly ended due to animal welfare concerns. In Jaipur, or indeed in Jodhpur, we recommend spending the morning with our guide’s family for an authentic Holi experience. We never recommend going it alone in the city crowds and in the next question, we’ll explain why…
I’ve heard/read the Holi festival can be dangerous. Is that true?
It’s common for those celebrating to enjoy a drink or two while throwing the coloured powder, or indulge in a bhang lassi (a yoghurt-based drink spiked with marijuana), however, there are sadly always a few who take the partying too far. Young men, in particular, can get very raucous and cause trouble; whether that be making inappropriate advances to ladies in crowds, or throwing stones at passing vehicles. For this reason, we strongly recommend our guests avoid crowded colour-throwing events that you’ll find in the markets and town centres. If you would like to see and photograph those scenes, we can arrange for your guide or driver to accompany you. But please, do not risk going alone.
Because of unpredictable troublemakers, it is considered dangerous for tourists to travel on the day of Holi; whether that be in the car or by train. You are much safer staying put and moving on to your next destination the following day instead.
The vast majority of people celebrate Holi beautifully in a safe and fun way. However, the safety of our guests is, of course, our utmost priority so we will always advise against potentially dangerous scenarios. You’ll enjoy the festival a great deal more if you follow our advice and spend the morning with a trusted local family, rather than strangers.
If you’d like to experience the colourful Holi festival on a private, tailor-made trip to Rajasthan and the north, please do get in touch. As experts in tailor-made tours of this specific region with a proven track record, we’re a perfect fit to assist with your travel arrangements and create something truly special. Meanwhile, you might find out sample trips inspiring to start with. We also recommend you check out our guide to the best festivals in Rajasthan. If the month of March doesn’t suit your schedule yet you’d like to embrace one of Rajasthan’s most revered festivals, Diwali – the festival of light, celebrated in October – may be a better fit for you.0