The ultimate guide to Holi festival

Feb 22, 2020

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Have you ever wondered why there’s a day devoted to wishing people Happy Holi and throwing brightly coloured paint powders all over strangers? And why everyone looks like they’re having such a great time?

Here’s your ultimate guide to the Hindu festival of Holi along with some top tips and a guide to where you can celebrate Holi all around the world.

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(Photo by Sunil Pradhan/NurPhoto/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sunil Pradhan/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

What is the Holi festival?

Holi is an ancient Hindu festival that marks the end of winter and celebrates the arrival of spring in India. The real roots are in the victory of good over evil when the wicked demoness Holika was defeated and the Hindu God, Lord Vishnu, triumphed.

Holika was then burned on a huge bonfire for her evil spirit and onlookers applied the ash from the fire to their foreheads to symbolise triumph over evil. As the years went on, the coloured powders that are so iconic today began to be used instead.

When is Holi celebrated?

Also known as “the festival of colours” and the “festival of love”, it is celebrated over the course of a night and a day and the date each year depends on the lunar cycle. This year Holi takes place on 9 and 10 March and 28 and 29 March 2021 if you are planning ahead.

Read more: From Argentina to Ireland: Best holiday destinations for March 2020

The festival of Holi is a religious festival. People sing bhajans of Radha and Lord Krishna on this day and it marks the beginning of Spring Season in india.Here you can see a gathering of people singing folk songs and dancing while people throwing colors on them during Holi (Festival of Colors), Indiaâ?¦
(Photo by Poras Chaudhary/Getty Images)

How is Holi celebrated?

Like all good things, Holi is celebrated in two parts. On the night before Holi, huge bonfires are lit to commemorate the burning of the evil Holika. This day is known as Holika Dahan and people dance and sing around the fires.

The next day is all about having fun and celebrating life. Traditionally, coloured paint powders are thrown all over the streets and spread across smiling faces. People party, have water fights, spend time with loved ones, dance to Bollywood tunes and enjoy a little bhang.

(Photo by traveler1116/Getty Images)
(Photo by traveler1116/Getty Images)

What is bhang and why is it so important in Holi?

Made from the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant, bhang has been used in India for hundreds of years in various forms. When the Indian Holi celebrations really kick in, shots of bhang are dished out mixed with pistachios, almonds, milk, rose petals and sugar. Bhang is also used in other Indian snacks like pakoras and vadas.

Where is Holi celebrated?

Although Holi originates in India, it is also widely celebrated in other parts of Asia and around the world. For example, in the U.K. there are an estimated 350,000 Hindus living in London but farther away from home, here are five amazing destinations to celebrate Holi:

India

The two main airports and biggest cities in the country are New Delhi (DEL) and Mumbai (BOM). Most major airlines fly to India including many Star Alliance, Oneworld and Sky Team airlines, making it easier to use points and miles. If you add up your transferable points, you should be able to find multiple options so you can choose an airline/route that is best suited for you.

Nepal

With warm weather in March, it is a great place to celebrate Holi and if you have time, you can also conquer Mount Everest or go white water rafting. There are some interesting new hotels like the Aloft Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Marriott Hotel, which both opened last year. A room at the Aloft starts at £93 for a standard guest room over the Holi dates. Prices at the Marriott over the same period start at £108 for a deluxe room or 30,000 Marriott points.

Read more: 7 of the best winter sun escapes from the U.K.

(Photo courtesy of Marriott)
(Photo courtesy of Marriott)

Mauritius

Roughly half the population of Mauritius are Hindu, and Holi is a national holiday. The streets of the capital Port Louis are filled with people celebrating and dancing in the sun. The Intercontinental Resort Mauritius is on the northwest coast about an hour from the airport on a lagoon called the Baie aux Tortues and near Port Louis. Free nights can be redeemed with 30,000 IHG Rewards Club Points or you can pay £155 for a standard room.

Trinidad and Tobago

Holi is known as Phagwa in Trinidad and Tobago and has been celebrated here since 1845. There is a range of accommodation options from a cabin in the rainforest to beachside resorts. The World of Hyatt loyalty programme offers a generous award chart and you can spend a night at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad for 12,000 points or £129 for a king room.

South Africa

Cape Town hosts a big Holi celebration every year and March is warm, dry but also peak season so plan carefully. Fly to Cape Town from 12,500 miles one-way with the new Virgin Atlantic route that will fly daily between London Heathrow (LHR) and Cape Town (CPT) from October 2020. In addition to using one of Virgin’s cobranded credit cards, you can also transfer American Express U.K. Membership Rewards points to Flying Club at a 1:1 rate, so 10,000 Amex points transferred to Virgin Atlantic will give you 10,000 Flying Club miles.

Here are also a pick of some of the London Holi events for 2020

  • The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir — also known as Neasden Temple — holds a Holi bonfire on the evening of Monday 9 March.
  • Mangalam, a Hindu cultural and religious group, organises Managalam Holi Mahotsav, a family-friendly Holi Festival event in Feltham. Focus is very much on Indian culture, with food, DJs, and of course coloured paint powders. 
  • A Holi Festival Supper Club with a four-course menu, bottomless drinks, DJ and games in a homely setting at Little Yellow Door in Notting Hill.
(Photo by Paddy Photography/Getty Images)
(Photo by Paddy Photography/Getty Images)

Practical tips for making your Holi festival 2020 a fun, safe experience

  • Not everyone uses naturally dyed powders so protect your skin and eyes. A good way of preventing the powder from absorbing into your skin is to rub coconut oil on it or a moisturiser with an oily base.
  • Don’t wear your best clothes as the colours will stain. Buy some cheap white clothes as they will make the colours stand out and make your photos better.
  • Cover your camera carefully or buy an old school disposable camera. Whatever you do take, wrap it up well.

Bottom line

Holi may not be the biggest religious festival in the world but it is definitely one of the best and most fun so plan ahead, pick a destination and start celebrating. Happy Holi.

Featured photo by Devesh Tripathi/Getty Images

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