What Is Holi? Everything To Know About Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors

When you think of the Hindu holiday Holi, you may imagine people celebrating by throwing colorful powder on each other in the streets. It’s true that playfully dousing people in vibrantly colored liquids and powders is an important part of Holi, a spring festival also known as the Festival of Colors, that is celebrated by many Hindus around the world. However, this colorful tradition is just one part of Holi

The holiday is actually a series of celebrations that takes place over two days. It’s rooted in a few different Hindu legends, and carries important symbolic meanings. We’re looking into some common questions you may have about this holiday, including 'What is Holi?' and 'When is Holi in 2024?' 

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What is the Holi festival?

Often called the Festival of Colors, Holi is a vibrant celebration that involves dancing, singing, and the playful throwing of colored powders and water at fellow revelers. Holi is celebrated widely across parts of India, where it originated, as well as in other countries in South Asia and across the Hindu diaspora in Europe and North America.

On the night before the main Holi festival, Holika Dahan, many families traditionally burn wood or cow dung in bonfires. The next day, people gather in the streets to dance, enjoy sweets and snacks, and throw powder and colored water, sometimes using water guns or balloons to soak others.

When is Holi 2024?

Holi takes place on a different date each year. In 2024, Holi begins on March 24 (Holika Dahan) and officially takes place on March 25. The holiday changes dates from year to year because it corresponds with the twelfth month of Phalguna in the Hindu calendar, which is actually a network of calendars tied to lunar and solar cycles.

Each year in the Hindu calendar only has 354 days, so the dates of Hindu festivals correspond differently to the Gregorian calendar each year, according to Heart of Hinduism

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What is the meaning of Holi?

Holi celebrates the arrival of spring. It also represents the triumph of good over evil, as well as a day to celebrate love, happiness, and a good harvest, according to India Today.

The rainbow of colors thrown in the form of powder or water also carries symbolic meaning. Red, for example, is considered the color of life and marriage and is often worn by women in India on their wedding day, according to the Smithsonian. Blue, meanwhile, is associated with divinity, as many Hindu gods, including Krishna and Vishnu, are often portrayed as having blue skin, while green is associated with nature.

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What is Holi celebrated for?

Holi is celebrated to honor the arrival of spring, as well as love, fertility and renewal. Today’s Holi festival has its roots in a few different Hindu legends, including the story of Prahalad and Holika.

In a version of the ancient tale summarized by the BBC, Holika is the evil sister of the demon king, Hiranyakashyap. The king wants his son, Prahalad, to worship him like a deity. However, Prahalad refuses and remains loyal to the god Vishnu.

The demon king is furious and attempts to kill Prahalad. He fails, however, and asks his evil sister, Holika, to kill his son instead. The gods had previously given Holika the power of immunity to fire, so she decides to kill Prahalad by sitting with him in her lap in the middle of a fire. She figures the flames will kill the boy while she remains unburned.

However, the gods are upset to see the powers they gave Holika being used for evil, so they decide to spare Prahalad, and let Holika burn instead. The gods also kill the demon king, and Prahalad becomes king in his place.

Holi’s message of good triumphing over evil can trace its origins to this legend. According to the BBC, some people also burn effigies of Holika on their bonfires during Holi, a reference to Holika perishing in the flames.

The Holi festival also has ties to a more light-hearted religious tale. Some people believe that colored powders are thrown because the god Krishna used to playfully throw colorful water over his milkmaids as a child, according to the BBC.

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What is the Holi festival for?

In addition to celebrating love, renewal, and the arrival of spring, Holi is a time when many people relax social codes, and let down traditional barriers between genders, classes and age groups, according to National Geographic. During the playful festival, no one—male or female, rich or poor, young or old—is safe from being covered with a handful of colorful powder, or doused with a balloon or water gun loaded with bright liquid.

According to National Geographic, a popular expression during the festival is “bura na mano, Holi hai—don't be offended, it's Holi!”

What are Holi colors made of?

Traditionally, the colorful powders thrown during Holi were made of natural ingredients, such as turmeric for yellow, beets for purple, and pomegranate and dried hibiscus flowers for red. Nowadays, synthetic colors are often used, some of which may contain toxic ingredients such as a lead oxide or copper sulphate, according to the Indian government’s National Council of Science Museums.

The National Council has some tips for partying safely during Holi, including applying “a thick layer of moisturizer, petroleum jelly or coconut oil on your face and other exposed parts of the body to prevent colours from coming into direct contact with your skin.” They also recommend wearing dark, cotton clothing to avoid too much heaviness or stickiness after being doused in water or powder.

Next up, here are 10 delicious Indian recipes to try for Holi!