How India Celebrates Holi, From Varanasi to Meghalaya

Travel across India with these five colourful traditions.  
Ganga Mela
Ganga Mela is a week-long celebration of Holi in Kanpur. Illustration: Rutuja Patil

Celebrating Holi is synonymous with being drenched in colour. While that may be the overall sense of the festival, almost each Hindu community has a distinct way of marking this harvest festival—and new customs keep being added. In March 2015, for example, widows from ashrams in Vrindavan and Varanasi played a special four-day Holi, after centuries of being excluded from the celebrations because they are expected to renounce earthly joys.

The central focus of Holi is its sense of bonhomie and cheer. Negativity is purged by the bonfires that are lit on the eve of Holi. Emperor Akbar was particularly fond of the revelry. Abul Fazl, one of the nine gems in Akbar’s court, documented in Ain-e-Akbari how “Shanshah ust chee shudam aviyaar minhal mustambeer qabl-e-jashn-e-faam”—the Emperor began to collect pichkaris [water guns] of different sizes well before Holi. We explore the legends and traditions of five Indian communities below.

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    Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She loves beaches, blue skies, and baking, and is most centred while trying a new cake recipe. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro.

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    Rutuja Patil is a Mumbai-based illustrator and photographer who recently majored in Visual Communication from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology. She likes to use the medium of illustration and photography to sell a destination, narrative, prove a social cause, and communicate. Her travel over the past few years has influenced her graphics that tell stories about geography, environment, spaces and people.

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