If you want to experience the traditional flavour of the festival, take a trip to the childhood home of Lord Krishna-Mathura and Vrindavan-where the festival is a two-week-long affair. Effigies of Holika (a demoness in Hindu mythology who was burnt to death while trying to kill a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Holi is considered a celebration of love and goodness over evil) are burnt on the night of Holi, and also dried grains and coconuts are offered to the gods as the villagers pray for a good harvest season. The day of Holi itself is celebrated with much fervour, with colours and flower petals being showered on each other on every street. In another part of the state, Lathmar Holi is celebrated, wherein the women-folk fend off the men who try to colour them with sticks in a playful manner. The ultimate goal is for the men to reach the Shri Radhikaji temple and hoist a flag, as women try to stop them. The most interesting part is that if the men get caught, they are made to dress up in a woman's attire and made to dance!
Maharastra and Gujarat
If you witness Holi in the western parts of India, you are likely to see grand processions of men soaked in coloured water as they walk through the streets and mock everyone to save the makhan ki handi (buttermilk pots which Krishna was famous for enjoying), much like the tradition of Janmashthami. The pot is hung at a high point in the middle of the prominent squares in the street and the men form human pyramids to climb up and break it.
Holi is known as Dol Yatra or the swing festival in Bengal. The idols of Lord Krishna and Radha are decorated on a swing and devotees show their adoration by taking turns to swing these idols and sing devotional songs. People spray coloured water on each other called abeer. In Rabindranath Tagore's Shantiniketan, Holi is celebrated as the spring festival or vasantutsav. Students dress up in brightly coloured clothes, particularly Lord Krishna's favourite yellow, and perform choreographed dances, songs, etc. This is followed by playing Holi with abeer. The popularity of vasantutsavhas increased to such an extent that it has become an important part of the Bengali culture of today.
Holi is known as Yaoshang in Manipur. The festival is celebrated as a 6-day affair commencing on the full moon night of the month of Phalguna in the Hindu calendar. A thatched hut of mud, hay and twigs is burnt on the night before Holi. The next morning, boys and girls play with colour and water with each other. But there's a twist-in Manipur, the boys have to pay the girls in order to play holi with them and let them throw colour on them. The last day typically sees devotees come out in huge throngs to form a procession and head towards the famous Krishna temple in Imphal.
In Jaipur, an elephant festival kicks off Holi celebrations. The city is alive with elephant parades, elephant beauty contests, folk dances, and tug-of-war between elephants. However, off late, animal welfare groups have opposed this tradition and hence the streets do not see this grand display anymore.
What's common across all these places, however, is the spirit with which the festival is celebrated-that of togetherness, mischief and a whole lot of laughter. Be it colours or sticks, India sure knows how to get in the mood to celebrate come spring time!