Essential Guide to the 2018 Holi Festival in India

India's Festival of Colors

Holi celebrations in Jaipur, India.
urbancow/Getty Images  

The Holi festival commemorates the victory of good over evil, brought about by the burning and destruction of the demoness named Holika. This was enabled through unwavering devotion to the Hindu god of preservation, Lord Vishnu.

Holi got its name as the "Festival of Colors" from Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who liked to play pranks on the village girls by drenching them in water and colors.

The festival marks the end of winter and the abundance of the upcoming spring harvest season.

When is Holi Celebrated?

The day after the full moon in March each year. In 2018, Holi will be celebrated on March 2. The festival takes place a day earlier in West Bengal and Odisha. In addition, in some parts of India (such as Mathura and Vrindavan) festivities commence a week or so earlier.

Find out when is Holi in future years.

Where is Holi Celebrated?

Holi celebrations take place in most areas of India. However, they're more exuberant in some places than others. Check out these 10 Places to Celebrate the Holi Festival in India (and one region that should be avoided).

Traditional Holi celebrations are the biggest at Mathura and Vrindavan, four hours from Delhi. However, safety issues are a concern for women there, due to the rowdy behavior of many local men, so it's best to travel as part of a guided group tour.

How is Holi Celebrated?

People spend the day smearing colored powder all over each other's faces, throwing colored water at each other, having parties, and dancing under water sprinklers. Bhang (a paste made from cannabis plants) is also traditionally consumed during the celebrations.

See pictures of Holi celebrations in this Holi Festival Photo Gallery.

Special Holi events with music, rain dances, and colors are organized in large cities across India -- particularly in Delhi and Mumbai. It's possible to celebrate Holi with a local Indian family in Delhi and in Jaipur.

What Rituals are Performed?

The emphasis of Holi rituals is on the burning of demoness Holika. On the eve of Holi, large bonfires are lit to mark occasion. This is known as Holika Dahan. As well as performing a special puja, people sing and dance around the fire, and walk around it three times.

The burning of Holika is mentioned in the Hindu text, the Narada Purana. Apparently, Holika's brother demon King Hiranyakashyap instructed her to burn his son, Prahlad, because he followed Lord Vishnu and didn't worship him. Holika sat with Prahlad in her lap, in the burning fire, because it was thought that no fire could harm her. However, due to his devotion to Lord Vishnu who protected him, Prahlad survived and Holika was charred to death.

Unlike most other festivals in India, there aren't any religious rituals to be performed on the main day of Holi. It's simply a day for having fun!

Holi in Odisha and West Bengal

Similar to Holi, the Dol Jatra celebrations in West Bengal and Odisha are dedicated to Lord Krishna.

However, the mythology is different. The festival celebrates the love that Krishna is believed to have expressed to Radha on that day. Idols of Radha and Krishna are carried around in procession on specially decorated palanquins. Devotees take turns swinging them. The idols are also smeared with colored powder. Of course, colors are thrown at people on the streets too! Festivities actually begin six days beforehand, on Phagu Dashami.

What to Expect During the Celebrations

Holi is a very carefree festival that’s great fun to participate in if you don’t mind getting wet and dirty. You'll end up saturated in water, with color all over your skin and clothes. Some of it doesn't wash out easily, so be sure to wear old clothes. It's also a good idea to rub hair oil or coconut oil into your skin beforehand, to prevent the color from absorbing.

Holi Safety Information

As Holi provides an opportunity to disregard social norms and generally "let loose", males commonly take it too far and act disrespectfully.

Single women should avoid going out alone in public places during Holi, as inebriated young Indian guys often pose a safety threat. These males, who have consumed excessive amounts of bhang and other intoxicants, will inappropriately touch women and make a nuisance of themselves. They are usually in groups and can be very aggressive. Incidents of rape also do occur, which makes it important to take proper care during Holi.

If you plan on going out into the streets on Holi, do so early in the morning. Be back in your hotel by midday before the men get too inebriated.  Many hotels hold special Holi parties for their guests in a safe environment.

Expect to have colored powder and water rubbed and thrown onto your face, mouth and ears. Keep your mouth shut and protect your eyes as much as possible.