Why Throw Colors During Holi?

Dates for Holi and Why Colors Are Thrown to Celebrate

Throwing colors during Holi in India
••• Throwing colors during Holi is messy fun. Poras Chaudhary / Getty Images

Dates change every year, so everyone is wondering: when is Holi? And why throw colors during Holi anyway?

India's exciting Holi festival — also called the Festival of Colors — is an ancient Hindu celebration dating back to at least the 4th century. It is one of the biggest festivals in India and definitely among the messiest festivals in the world. Dancing throngs throw powdered dyes on each other and spray each other with colored water!

The Holi festival is a favorite with travelers who come to witness and join in the messy chaos. Bhang — made from cannabis — is consumed while people dance, party, and drench each other with water and vivid colors.

Holi isn't the time or place to wear your best clothes. Just as during the Songkran festival in Thailand, leave your passport and that fragile phone/camera at the hotel!

Why Celebrate Holi?

Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil and commemorates the burning of the demoness Holika. The festival also signifies the end of winter and positive hopes for the upcoming spring harvest. Large bonfires are set on the eve before Holi to discourage evil spirits from causing any trouble.

Much like the January 1 New Year and Lunar New Year celebrations throughout the world, Holi is considered a great time to start anew in relationships by forgiving grievances, forgetting old feuds, and patching things up with friends lost over time.

 After splattering each other with colors all day, observers of Holi typically clean up to meet family and friends for dinners and jovial reunions.

When Is Holi?

The Holi festival in India always starts on the day after the full moon in February or March, more often March. Specifically, per the Hindu calendar, Holi is on the last full moon day of the lunar month of Phalguna, or Phalgun Purnima.

  • Holi 2012: Thursday, March 8
  • Holi 2013: Wednesday, March 27
  • Holi 2014: Monday, March 17
  • Holi 2015: Friday, March 6
  • Holi 2016: Wednesday, March 23
  • Holi 2017: Monday, March 13

Officially, Holi lasts for two days, although celebrations begin with the bonfire the night before.

Why Throw Colors During Holi?

Aside from simply being great fun, the throwing of colors during Holi once had a medicinal benefit: to stave off colds and viruses brought on by damp weather in spring, the colorful powders were traditionally made from natural Ayurvedic medicines such as neem, cumin, and turmeric.

Ingesting the spices is good, but throwing them at Holi allows the powders to get into the eyes, ears, nasal passages, and any small wounds to combat ailments related to changing weather. Unfortunately, that may no longer be a good thing.

Today, most of the colored dye thrown during Holi is synthetically produced, and in sharp contrast to tradition, may actually harm one's health rather than help it!

A study conducted in 2001 found that many of the dyes used during Holi were toxic and were known to cause numerous health problems. Red — one of the most predominate colors — was found to be made of carcinogenic chemicals rather than flowers, sandalwood, and pomegranate as it once was.

Many of the other pigments contain heavy metals which cause skin rashes and irritation.

Where to Celebrate Holi?

Holi is celebrated to some degree wherever a sizable Hindu population can be found, although many non-Hindus enjoy the festival now, too. Holi is observed in Malaysia, Nepal, and Pakistan, among other countries. The busiest places to witness Holi in India are Delhi, Mathura, Vrindavan, Jaipur, and Barsana.

South India is not really the place to be for a festive Holi; the celebration mainly takes place as traditions carried out inside of temples void of tourists. One exception in South India is Hampi in Karnataka; Holi is especially vibrant there. North India is the place to find the most rambunctious celebrations for observing the Festival of Colors.

Safety During the Holi Festival

Some local men have been known to become notoriously aggressive while intoxicated during Holi; their actions can spoil the fun for some traveling women.

Getting groped in the chaotic throng is common. Although advances from local men have been a problem for women traveling in India for a long time, things really get wild on Holi.

Plan on your clothing, eyeglasses, jewelry, and any items that you are carrying to become drenched and permanently dyed during Holi. The dyes do not always wash out easily, so plan to keep that color-stained shirt as a souvenir after the festival! Leave your watch, passport, and smartphone at the hotel.