Updated: Mar 15
Holi celebration in India changes every year according to the lunar calendar. (follow this site to check on Holi dates) The night during the last full moon of winter, they set bonfires to ward away evil spirits and to usher in SPRING! On the day of Holi, people splash colors on each other. This manic party normally goes on till the late afternoon and from evening people change into their best outfits and enjoy the celebration with family & friends with a BHANG!
Varanasi is on every traveller's bucket list and add Holi celebrations to it, you will get a BLAST & a BHANG!
Old Varanasi, a town on the banks of the river the Holy Ganges, Hindus come here to gain 'moshka' or release themselves from the eternal cycle of life and death reincarnation.
That is why Hindus from across India and beyond, often choose to live out their last days in this 5,000 year-old city and having their remains cremated on the ghats, or steps alongside the Ganges.
A macabre vibe fills the air as you pass the Marnikarnika ghat (steps of stairs leading to river). Was it the flame, the stench of death or the smoke billowing in the air? One has to come here to face it for oneself!
Holika Dahan, Bonfires before actual Holi
In the days leading up to Holi in Varanasi, people will gather wood, dung and other burnable things and build large pyres in the middle of the streets and on the ghats.
On the day of Holika Dahan an effigy of Holika with child Prahlad in her lap is kept on the logs.
After the 1800 puja (ritual by the Ganges river) around 2000, they fires will be lit amidst the chanting of Rakshoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda to ward off all evil spirits.
Metaphorically, the fire is meant to signify the destruction of evil - the burning of the 'Holika'. The heat from the fire also depicts that winter is behind and the hot summer days are ahead. Next day after Holika Dahan is called Dhuleti, when play with colours actually takes place.
STAY SAFE WHILE HAVING FUN
As benign as getting dirty with colored starch may seem, the crowd does get rowdy and uncontrollable, especially towards the later part of the day! Here are some tips to stay protected, especially if you are are female traveller!
1. BE WARY of DRUNK, HIGH DUDES
They would ask a picture with you and start getting all touchy!
2. Watch out for arial water balloon projectiles
Water balloons hurled from the rooftop can hurt quite a bit when they land on you!
3. KEEP MOUTH SHUT!
Some revelers loves targeting the mouths. When the colored powder gets in your mouth, it taste awful and honestly we don't know what was put into making those colors! (so always bring a bottle of mineral water with you, so you can rinse off immediately)
And if you get sprayed in your mouths please spit out cause most definitely the water source was from the taps, sewers, or the holy Ganges!
4. Be CAUTIOUS when offered Food or LASSI/yogurt
Bhang, or marijuana extract, is commonly consumed during Holi. They add them in lassi, thandai, pakoras, etc. During Holi, street food wallas sell they BHANG mix but we can't really tell how potent the concoction is! So to play it safe, if you are interested to enter the realms of Lord Shiva, you are better off buying from legal government approved stores! Read my post on Bhang lassi.
If you planned this, please bring some clothes that you don't want along or simply buy a cheap Tee and preferably pants too! I assure you that these colored powder will stain you and your clothes! And to wash them back to former glory will be remote! So please avoid wearing your latest Versace or D&G outfit!
6. CAMERA AND PHONE
If you are going to bring your devices out, best to protect them with a plastic bag! Because most defiantly they will be drenched!
7. RESTAURANTS CLOSED TILL 3-4pm on Holi
If you are planning on a Bhang lassi, you actually may get quite hungry after that, it is recommended to spend your quiet time in a restaurant or somewhere calm.
8. Normally by 1400, the manic party stops, but you will never know when an unsuspecting reveler surprises you and gives a smack especially when you are all bathed and clean! There will be hoards of colorful revelers heading to the Holy Ganga from this time to wash off the colors from the celebration!
Reflections during Holi
Set out early, enter the labyrinth of houses in old Varanasi. Play and get drenched with the younger children who are innocent and fun! The rowdy and wild crowd of men normally come out later around 11-noon, after waking up from their hang over the night before!
If you are a foreigner you will be targeted, attacked with much more vigor and gusto! So if you are not up to it, beyond1200, it would be advisable to retreat to the comforts of the hotel, and watch the fun unfold from the hotel balcony!
Dodging water missiles and playing with the children in the labyrinth, you unleash the child in you! It was really insane to indulge in a celebration of this sort amidst the Covid-19 outbreak that has taken the world like an apocalypse. (I came back and am into my 10 day self imposed quarantine and counting)
The back alleys were so full of dookie, cat poop, cow dung, rubbish, left over curries, smoldering ash from the bonfire from last night, it would be highly recommended you take extra care when you embark into one of these alley! You can easily get lost inside! So throw caution to the wind but don't completely lose yourself!
We went back to the hotel for a wash and just watch the remaining spectacle from the hotel. No restaurants or shops of any kind was open, so your best bet would be to return to your hotel if you are looking for lunch!
I came here prepared and if you are coming here for Holi, just protect yourself and stay safe!
It is truly a bucket list experience in a very HOLY city!
Date Visited: March 2021