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The Rituals of Holi

25 March 2016

Holi has taken the whole world by a whirlwind of colour; it is no longer a celebration only observed by Indians – Westerners throw huge parties in honour of it, too. But getting back on a more ancient track: what are the traditional rituals of Holi exactly?

Photo by Steven Gerner

Drenched in Paint. Photo Credit: Julian Correa

Drenched in Paint. Photo Credit: Julian Correa

This year, the festival of Holi was held on March 24. More specifically, it started on this day. The series of celebrations are usually a two-day deal, following the ancient rituals with devotion, to the letter.


Before the Festival Begins

People start cooking! There are many delicacies that are Holi-associated, like Gujiya (made with sweet milk and fruits,) or Thandai (a drink with milk, dry fruits and saffron, served in Rajasthan.) People also start collecting wood at some crossroads of cities and villages for the bonfire that would burn on the eve of Holi.


Holika Dahan Celebration

When the eve of Holi arrives, the ritual of Holika Dahan begins. During it, people burn the effigy of Holika on the bonfire. Holika was the evil sister of the demon king Hiranyakshyap, who tried to kill his own son Prahlad, for not worshipping him, but having faith in Lord Vishnu instead. The plan was for Holika to bring Prahlad into the fire in her lap, so that Prahlad would die – she had a cloak that protected her against the flames. However, she didn’t know that the cloak only worked when she was alone, so the plan backfired: she died and Prahlad was saved. In other words, Holi is the celebration of the ultimate victory of good over evil.

In Good Spirits. Photo Credit: Kavya Bhat

In Good Spirits. Photo Credit: Kavya Bhat

Matka Ceremony

In the areas in and around Mathura and Vridavana, they have a ritual during Holi called the Matka ceremony. It is basically a game of teamwork: a big earthenware pot is tied high above, so that nobody can reach it. The objective of the game is for boys to form a huge human pyramid, and finally break the pot by hitting it with a stick. During the game, the girls would make ropes out of their saris and hit the boys with them to make attempts to break the pot unsuccessful. The whole thing is playful, with teasing and throwing colours at each other. Originally, it was done in the Braj area of India, but due to Bollywood making it popular, it has become a trend all over India.

Women Keeping Men in Line. Photo Credit: gkrishna38

Women Keeping Men in Line. Photo Credit: gkrishna38

Playing with Colours

Although most celebrations and rituals in India have a Puja ceremony, there isn’t one on the morning of the second day of Holi. (Side Note: A Puja ceremony is a ritual during which people show their devotion to gods by prayer, singing and invocations.) Instead of a Puja ritual, people dive into fun activities from almost dawn: the colour plays begin all over cities and villages. People soak each other in a mixture of water and coloured powder with the help of water balloons, sprays and even sometimes buckets. Now, it has become so popular, that people is the West also celebrate it with huge Holi colour festivals.

Color Balloons Exploding. Photo Credit: Maciek Lulko

Color Balloons Exploding. Photo Credit: Maciek Lulko

Holi Procession

In some states during Holi, there is something called the Procession. During this ritual, boys and men who have been absolutely drenched in colours, have to go around their hometowns and sing Holi at every house. Once the song has ended, they’d get some sweet delicacies, and then they’d be off to the next house.

To feast your eyes on something, here are the Holi festivities in a series of astonishing pictures.

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About the Author


Vera graduated from McDaniel College Europe with a degree in Political Sciences and International Relations. She loves to write about anything that interests her and she has a mania for baking - she also has a baking channel. She is an avid organizer, recording everything in her Filofax. An active person, she runs a lot and has to go to the gym on a regular basis, otherwise she would go craaaazyy.