National Geographic News
A photo an Indian child covered in green powder.

A child from Bhubaneswar celebrated Holi on March 16, 2014.

PHOTOGRAPH BY ASIT HUMAR, AFP/GETTY

Angie McPherson

National Geographic

Published March 18, 2014

Bright neon powder masks young and old in northern India during the annual Hindu celebration called Holi, held this year on March 17. Known as the festival of colors, Holi is celebrated on the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalguna.

An ancient tradition, Holi marks the end of winter and honors the triumph of good over evil. Celebrants light bonfires, throw colorful powder called gulal, eat sweets, and dance to traditional folk music.

"It's a time when people let go of their inhibitions," says Suhag Shukla, executive director at the Hindu American Foundation in Washington, D.C. "It's a playful celebration, and the colors remind us that beneath the surface we're all the same."

Raining Red

A photo of a man throwing colored power at the Holi Festival.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RAJESH KUMAR SINGH, AP

Red dye is thrown by the fistful into the Baldev Temple in Dauji, about 110 miles (177 kilometers) south of Delhi. Red is an auspicious color in India. "Red is traditionally a color that brides wear," said Shukla. "But typically during Holi, there is no preference for one color or another. It's the practice of coloring that we celebrate."

Ignoring Caste

A photo of a widow dancing at Holi Festival.
PHOTOGRAPH BY AJAY AGGARWAI, HINDUSTAN TIMES VIA GETTY

A widow dances in the streets of Vrindavan. In strict orthodox Hindu communities, some widows are forced to move to holy cities and are shunned by family members. During Holi, the caste system becomes less rigid and "everyone partakes in the festivals," Shakula said. In the city of Vrindavan in the state of Uttar Pradesh, more than a thousand widows living in the city turned out this year to celebrate the festival of color.

Folk Songs and Dance

A photo of widows dancing at the Holi Fesitval.
PHOTOGRAPH BY REBECCA CONWAY, AFP/GETTY

A widow covered in gulal dances to traditional folk music. Many songs have been written for the festival of colors, from lighthearted tunes to ballads about the romance between the prominent Hindu gods Lord Krishna and Radha.

Krishna and Radha

A photo of a man throwing colored powder at Holi Festival.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALTAF QADRI, AP

Villagers in Nandgaon throw red gulal at each other in the Radha temple. Nandgaon is the hometown of Radha, a close friend of Lord Krishna in Hindu mythology. According to the Holi tradition, the throwing of gulal originates with Radha and Lord Krishna. Young Lord Krishna, who was dark-skinned, asked his mother why Radha was so fair. Krishna's mother told him to throw color on Radha's face to make her the same color as him.

Dancing in Color

A photo of a man in a parade at Holi Festival.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALTAF QADRI, AP

A young man raises his hands in celebration at the Nandagram temple. In Krishna's traditional hometown of Nandgaon, men from nearby Barsana village are soaked in colored water by men and beaten with sticks by women from Nandgaon.

Holi Moves South

A photo of a woman shaking colored powder out of her hair.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RAFIQ MAQBOOL, AP

A woman shakes yellow gulal from her hair during celebrations in Mumbai. Traditionally, Holi was more popular in northern India than in the south, but today it is widely celebrated throughout the country. It has also recently spread to parts of Europe and North America.

Pretty in Pink

A photo of a man lying in pink powder at Holi Festival
PHOTOGRAPH BY RAJESH KUMAR SINGH, AP

A man in Allahabad lies on the ground smeared in pink gulal. The color represents springtime and flowers in bloom.

59 comments
zhao hu
zhao hu

So happy they are!!

Gan Li
Gan Li

can't understand and appreciate it .different culture different vision.

Katayoon F.
Katayoon F.

Amazing!.. Specially" Holi moves south"!..... 

huda g.
huda g.

Nice pic ,Iwill take like it in our Holi month at Ramadan after 3 monthes

J  R  FRANCIS Jr.
J R FRANCIS Jr.

HOLI   reveals   the    different   hues  and  shades   of    Indian   values   and   culture   through    colors....Let's   celebrate........,<8.......

Anelia Botha
Anelia Botha

What a fascinating country India is! Lovely photos

Erik Prince
Erik Prince

I so wish there was a way to get a print of the picture under the heading of 'Holi Moves South'. That picture of the girl twirling her hair and sending yellow gulal flying is just stunning!

Sudeshna Banerjee
Sudeshna Banerjee

Love the photos. And, seeing these pictures I remember the good old times, missed Holi this year too. 

Ravi Muthuswamy
Ravi Muthuswamy

Great to see Holi photos in National Geog! yes, it is a wonderful festival but mostly confined to North & Central India. I miss it terribly now that we have moved down South!

Mike Christison
Mike Christison

I first heard about Holi in the delightful movie "Outsourced". Sounds like a great time to be in India!

Susan Stone
Susan Stone

Now THIS is a celebration! Beautiful!

Farhan Shariff
Farhan Shariff

 Nice Clicks..A beautiful greetings is just enough to express the heartiest feelings.

Happy holi!!!

Baurzhan Kaliyev
Baurzhan Kaliyev

i feel their power of life which has more than 2000 year history, its amazing

Diane H.
Diane H.

pretty colors - it makes me want......

joyce buehler
joyce buehler

that looks like fun and it looks like a freeing celebration


Marie Rabner
Marie Rabner

LOVE all the colors and culture photos--Holi is on my bucket list!!!

Rachael Anthoney
Rachael Anthoney

I attended a color festival in Spanish Fork, Utah. Though it wasn't the 'original festival' of India, it was so much fun! 

Hans J. Krahtz
Hans J. Krahtz

Amazing Pictures, and great colors!

Regards, Hans

Sabine Kindschuh
Sabine Kindschuh

Absolutely love the colours and how everybody obviously enjoys this so much. Looks like a lot of fun. Some great pictures, too.

Billy Besaw
Billy Besaw

LOOK and be amazed! This is how we should celebrate Spring! Who's on board?


Carlos Ibarra
Carlos Ibarra

Color as expresion of religion, and viceversa.-

Amit Bathla
Amit Bathla

@Mike Christison  

Its fun time in US too.. we celebrate here at Stanford University.. lot of people from all around Bay Area get together to put up a great show :)

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