Color and variety are synonymous with Indian culture, beliefs, and way of life. A country steeped in traditions, India charms and bedazzles all her visitors with a kaleidoscopic rendezvous. Every street, every city, and every corner has a story to tell — all you have to do is listen. But it is tradition, culture, and celebrations that truly bring this country together. One of the most symbolic in the country is called Holi Festival Of Colors.

Every street, every city, and every corner has a story to tell — all you have to do is listen. But it is tradition, culture, and celebrations that truly bring this country together. One of the most symbolic in the country is called “Holi Festival Of Colors.”

Holi Festival Celebrates With Color

A festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil, Holi is a celebration of the arrival of spring and harvests to come. It’s the Holi festival of colors, emotions, and happiness. And what better way to express yourself than with the vibrant colors of the rainbow?

The central ritual of Holi is the throwing and applying of colored water and powders on friends and family, which gives the holiday its common name “Festival of Colors.” Come Holi, and the country is alive with mesmerizing hues of blues, yellows, magentas, greens, violets, and more. Clouds of colors dancing in the wind carry the message of love and happiness across walls, neighbors, and hearts.

Brightly colored powders are the mainstay of the Holi festival, during which men, women, and children carry powders and liquid colors to throw and smear on the clothes and faces of neighbors and relatives. While dry powder colors are called “gulal,” colors mixed with water are called “rang.” Tables with bags of colors line the entrance as neighbors and family await the others to enter the grounds. It’s a day to celebrate and let go — loud music, local brews, and fun-filled chatter are all essential elements of the celebrations.

Plastic packets containing colorful powder for the traditional celebration of Holi Festival Of Colors

Image: Bigstock

Plastic packets containing colorful powder for the traditional celebration
of Holi Festival Of Colors

But most importantly, Holi is the day when you will see the streets and homes of India doused in almost every color imaginable. Each color has significance, religious or otherwise. And there is a color for nearly every occasion, moment, or celebration. Each color symbolizes a force in life, and thus, color and life are inseparable.

While the most popular colors are the brightest — blue, yellow, red, purple, pink, and green — some colors are conspicuously absent, traditionally. These include black and white.

Color Symbolism Of Holi

Though white symbolizes a sense of purity, it is also a color of mourning. Widows in India, unlike in their western counterparts, retire to a white-only dress code. And while black is considered ugly, evil, and undesirable, it is relied upon heavily to ward off evil, as is evident in the ceremony of putting a black dot on a newborn baby’s face to ward off the evil eye.

During the early days, the “gulal” colors of Holi were made at home using flowers of the tree, otherwise called the “Flame of the Forest.” The flowers, once plucked, were dried in the sun and then ground to fine dust. The powdered dust once mixed in water gave way to the most brilliant hue of saffron-red. The saffron-red pigment and colored powdered talc called “aabir” were the mainstays at Holi festival celebrations, long before the manufactured colors of today.

People Celebrating Holi Festival Of Colors.

Image: Bigstock

Holi Festival Explodes With Color!

Squirting colored water, throwing colored water balloons, and tossing fistfuls of powdered colors at friends, family, and even strangers is not considered out of place or offensive and is, in fact, a part of the festival. Children and teenagers line up at strategic vantage points, armed with buckets of colored water and little water balloons, waiting to attack unassuming passers-by.

Every color means something special in the Indian psyche. Red, for instance, is a mark of matrimony; brides in India wear red most often at their wedding since it symbolizes fertility, love, beauty, and, most importantly, is a sign of a married woman. It is considered custom in the ways of Hinduism to wear red powder-Kumkum on the peak of their forehead. Most often considered the prerogative of a married woman, a red dot is worn between the eyebrows to symbolize blissful matrimony.

Yellow is yet another vital color in the Indian psyche. Yellow is almost synonymous with turmeric, an ingredient of great importance at auspicious functions across religions. It is perhaps revered more so because of its medicinal use right from the ancient times. Turmeric is used even today for the treatment of inflammatory and digestive disorders.

Before long everyone enjoying the Holi festival is covered in many colors

Image: Bigstock

Before long everyone enjoying the Holi festival is covered in many colors

Other colors that tease the skies on Holi include blue, the color of the revered god in Hinduism, Lord Krishna. Green symbolizes new beginnings, harvest, and fertility, and is also the sacred color of the Muslim community in India. Saffron is often associated with Hinduism, piety, and strength.

The colors of India, though diverse, speak the language of its people, from the red and ochre walls of village huts to the pristine white of the Taj Mahal. Color, art, and culture in the subcontinent have surpassed all odds and continue to hold the country together in a spellbinding tryst of hues. Holi is a festival celebrated in great revelry and belief, where citizens of the country paint the skies and their surroundings in the magnificent colors of joy.

Today, keeping pace with technological advancements, the primary colors used initially have been supplemented by metallic hues and various unimaginable shades and mixtures. But the spirit of the festival remains the same. It cuts across all classes, castes, and religions and brings people together. Together, they celebrate the onset of spring by filling their day and life with the colors of joy, prosperity, happiness, and peace.

Feature Image Credit: Bigstock

Read Time: 4 min
  • Nicely explained about the festival as well as significance of colours

  • lucas alford says:

    very good content and explanation about the Holi festival and colour powder (gulal).

  • Jonny Kumar says:

    Thank you so much! Great post. You have explained things so well for people who have little knowledge about this festival. Your suggestions are worth taking of to enjoy this festival to the fullest.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thank you. Enjoy the festival!

  • Your blog is informative. I gained knowledge about the holi festival. I like your blog

  • Thanks for sharing the information related to the Holi festival. I like the points which are shown in your blog.

  • Holi is considered as great festival in india. Good information

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thank you! I hope to be in India one day during Holi.

  • jared says:

    I’m colour blind 🙁

  • Fia says:

    Wow! nice article… I love color too.

  • Travis Haven says:

    Holi is a colorful festival and I like it. You way you wrote the information is awesome. Great Blog! Thanks for sharing with me.

  • Liza Ray says:

    I really liked your article on a color festival of India which brings Happiness. I have also written an Article on Colors

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks Liza. It is nice to know that another color lover enjoys my writing.:)

  • Judy says:

    Hello!! Firstly, can I just say… Ohhhh!! How you make me wish for the ability to travel so I can attend such a festival! I can imagine so clearly the feeling of happiness, of the sheer joy, one must experience during Holi! Secondly, I am starting my own cosmetics business, and I am looking all over for materials and ideas to my business that little bit extraordinary, so I was wondering can these coloured powders be used as eyeshadows, blushers, lipsticks, and the like? You see, I am catering to a rather specific market, and one that adores colours and shades of all, most particularly those of vibrant and vivid hue.

    Thank you in advance, Judy xx

    • Kate Smith says:

      Ohhh, Judy, I hope you get to visit India one day and experience the joy and happiness for yourself.

      I don’t know how these powders would work as cosmetics but I bet one of the US companies that makes them would be happy to speak to you about that. Let me know if you decide to incorporate the colors of Holi into your line. Best, Kate

  • Kathy wright says:

    I just returned from India and participated in the festival. It was all as you described and more! I had often heard people say negative things about the ugliness of India and its lifestyle. I say, with what eyes did they look? With my eyes , all I saw was color! The women in their sarees,even in the smallest village were beautifully colorful!

    • Kate Smith says:

      That sounds incredible, Kathy. One day I hope to be able to be there during the Holi Festival. I have traveled to India many times and I always enjoy my time there. It is a feast for the eyes of any color lover.

  • luis says:

    Are the colored powders and colored water safe?

    • Kate Smith says:

      There are sources of safe powders and colored water but check carefully. You don’t want to breathe in anything toxic or have it come in contact with your skin.

    • How to make Natural colours?
      Green
      Dry Colour:
      Use mehendi / henna powder, separately or mix with equal quantity of any suitable flour to attain a lovely green shade.

      Make use only pure mehendi and not the one mixed with amla (meant to be applied to our hair) as this would be brown in colour. Dry mehendi will not leave colour on your face as it can be easily brushed off. Only when it is a paste (i.e. it is mixed in water) will it leave a slight colour on your face. Thus, it can be used as a pucca / fast colour.

      Many people like smearing other person’s hair with colours. How about doing it with mehendi powder and saving a trip to the parlour?

      Other methods
      Dry and finely powder the leaves of Gulmohur (Delonix regia) tree for a green colour.
      Crush the tender leaves of the Wheat plant to obtain a natural safe green Holi colour.

      Wet colour:
      Mix two teaspoons of mehendi in one litre of water. Stir well.
      Green colour can also be obtained by mixing a fine paste of leaves like spinach / palak, coriander / dhaniya, mint / pudina, tomato leaves, etc. in water.
      Yellow
      Dry colour:
      Mix two teaspoons of haldi / Turmeric powder with double quantity of besan (gram flour). Haldi and besan are extremely healthy for our skin, and are also used widely as a ubtan while taking bath.

      You can use the ordinary haldi or “kasturi” haldi which is very fragrant and has enhanced therapeutic effects. Besan can be substituted by atta, maida, rice flour, arra rot (ground nut) powder, fuller’s earth (multani mitti) and even talcum powder.

      Another Method
      Flowers like Amaltas (Cassia fistula), Marigold / Gainda (Tagetus erecta), Yellow Chrysanthemums, Black Babul (Acacia arabica) yield different shades of yellow. Dry the petals of these flowers in shade and crush them to obtain a fine powder. Mix appropriate quantity of the powder with besan, etc. or use separately.

      Dry the rind of the Bael fruit (Aegle marmelos) and grind to obtain a yellow powder.

      Wet Colour:
      Add one teaspoon of haldi to two litres of water and stir well. This can be boiled to increase the concentration of colour and further diluted.
      Soak Amaltas (Cassia fistula) or Marigold / Gainda (Tagetus erecta) flowers in water. Boil and leave overnight.
      Red
      Dry Colour:
      Red Sandal Wood Powder / Raktachandan / Lalchandan (Pterocarpus santalinus) has a beautiful red colour, is extremely beneficial for the skin and is used in face packs, etc. This can be used instead of Red Gulal.
      Dry red hibiscus flowers in shade and powder to make a lovely red colour. To increase the bulk add any flour to it
      Sinduria, called Annato in English has a water chestnut shaped fruit which contains lovely brick colour red seeds. These yield both dry and wet colours.
      Wet colour
      Put 2 teaspoons of Red Sandal wood powder in a litre of water and boil. Dilute and use.
      Peels of Red Pomegranate boiled in water give red.
      For a bright orangish-red, mix thoroughly a pinch of chuna / lime powder (the one that we eat with our paan / betel leaves) with 2 spoons of haldi/ turmeric powder and a few drops of water. Use only after diluting with 10 litres of water.
      Extracting red from flower petals
      Buras (Rhododendron arboreum) known as Burans in the Garhwal hills and Brans in the Kumaon hills gives a lovely red colour when soaked in water overnight.
      Red hibiscus flowers soaked in water overnight give a red which also has medicinal value.
      The Palita Madar / Pangri / Indian Coral tree/ (Erythrina indica), found commonly in coastal regions, has large red flowers. Soak the flowers in water overnight.
      Boil wood of Madder Tree in water for a deep red.
      Red colour can also be obtained from juice of tomatoes and carrots. This can be diluted with sufficient quantity of water to remove the stickiness.
      Blue
      Dry Colour
      The Jacaranda flowers can be dried in the shade and ground to obtain a beautiful blue powder. The flowers bloom in summers.
      The blue Hibiscus which is found in Kerala can be dried and powdered just like the red hibiscus
      Wet Colour
      Crush the berries (fruits) of the Indigo plant and add to water for desired colour strength. In some Indigo species the leaves when boiled in water yield a rich blue.

      Magenta
      Wet Colour

      Slice or grate one Beet root. Soak in 1 litre of water for a wonderful magenta. Boil or leave overnight for a deeper shade. Dilute.
      Boil the peels of 10 – 15 pink Onions in half litre of water for an orangish-pink colour. Remove the peels before using to remove the smell.
      Soak Kachnar (Bauhinia variegata) flowers (pink variety) in water overnight, or boil for a pinkish colour.
      Saffron
      Wet Colour

      The Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma), known as Tesu, Palash or Dhak in vernacular languages, is the source of the wonderful, traditional colour for Holi. The flowers are soaked overnight in water and can also be boiled to obtain a fragrant yellowish – orange colored water.
      The dried flowers can be dried and powdered for a orange powder. Legend says that Lord Krishna used to play Holi with Tesu flowers, and the flowers also have a lot of medicinal properties. Tesu blooms during month of March.
      Boil flower petals of red variety of Semul / Silk Cotton (Bombax ceiba ) in water.
      Collect and dry the stalks of Harashringar / Parijatak (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) flowers during the early winter season. Soak them in water to get a pleasant coloured orange.
      Mix a pinch of Sandalwood powder from Ujjain (also used in our temples) in one litre of water for an instant, beautiful and fragrant saffron colour.
      Soak a few stalks of Saffron / Kesar in 2 table spoons of water. Leave for few hours and grind to make a fine paste. Dilute with water for desired colour strength. Though expensive, it is excellent for our skin.
      Brown
      Wet Colour

      Kattha (Acacia catechu), the one eaten in pan, when mixed with water will give a brownish colour.
      Boil Tea or Coffee leaves in water. Cool and use.
      Black
      Wet Colour

      Boil dried fruits of Amla / Indian Gooseberry in an iron vessel and leave overnight. Dilute with water and use.
      Extract juice of black grapes and dilute with sufficient quantity of water to remove stickiness

  • Jack says:

    I am so thankful that you described Holi in such detail. Do you have a address or phone number to get the powder in the US? And is there a specific day of the year Holi takes place. I know you said to welcome spring. Thank you again Kate. I can’t wait to experience Holi for myself.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article about Holi festival. I see many of these powders on Amazon http://amzn.to/1Wzvrxg but do check to make sure that they are non-toxic. It is usually in March. For 2016 it is March 23rd/24th. There is also a group that puts on Holi Festivals in the USA during the spring. You can see the dates here http://www.festivalofcolorsusa.com/

  • reeshika says:

    Your articles are really interesting.they are just amazing.i hope i could have translate your article into Hindi language …. But amazing article

  • The color powder is safe and does wash out of your clothes if it doesn’t get too wet. Also you want to make sure to get it Made in the USA because it won’t contain mold like some of the product from India.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks for sharing that tip.

  • Alice Slatton Campbell says:

    Are the colored powders and colored water safe?

    • Kate Smith says:

      I believe today that people are more concerned with health issues related to the celebration and are making safe powders. Still I would not feel comfortable participating since there is no way to know for certain the source of the powder others are throwing and I don’t like the idea of inhaling or ingesting something that is potentially dangerous.

    • How to make Natural colours?
      Green
      Dry Colour:
      Use mehendi / henna powder, separately or mix with equal quantity of any suitable flour to attain a lovely green shade.

      Make use only pure mehendi and not the one mixed with amla (meant to be applied to our hair) as this would be brown in colour. Dry mehendi will not leave colour on your face as it can be easily brushed off. Only when it is a paste (i.e. it is mixed in water) will it leave a slight colour on your face. Thus, it can be used as a pucca / fast colour.

      Many people like smearing other person’s hair with colours. How about doing it with mehendi powder and saving a trip to the parlour?

      Other methods
      Dry and finely powder the leaves of Gulmohur (Delonix regia) tree for a green colour.
      Crush the tender leaves of the Wheat plant to obtain a natural safe green Holi colour.

      Wet colour:
      Mix two teaspoons of mehendi in one litre of water. Stir well.
      Green colour can also be obtained by mixing a fine paste of leaves like spinach / palak, coriander / dhaniya, mint / pudina, tomato leaves, etc. in water.
      Yellow
      Dry colour:
      Mix two teaspoons of haldi / Turmeric powder with double quantity of besan (gram flour). Haldi and besan are extremely healthy for our skin, and are also used widely as a ubtan while taking bath.

      You can use the ordinary haldi or “kasturi” haldi which is very fragrant and has enhanced therapeutic effects. Besan can be substituted by atta, maida, rice flour, arra rot (ground nut) powder, fuller’s earth (multani mitti) and even talcum powder.

      Another Method
      Flowers like Amaltas (Cassia fistula), Marigold / Gainda (Tagetus erecta), Yellow Chrysanthemums, Black Babul (Acacia arabica) yield different shades of yellow. Dry the petals of these flowers in shade and crush them to obtain a fine powder. Mix appropriate quantity of the powder with besan, etc. or use separately.

      Dry the rind of the Bael fruit (Aegle marmelos) and grind to obtain a yellow powder.

      Wet Colour:
      Add one teaspoon of haldi to two litres of water and stir well. This can be boiled to increase the concentration of colour and further diluted.
      Soak Amaltas (Cassia fistula) or Marigold / Gainda (Tagetus erecta) flowers in water. Boil and leave overnight.
      Red
      Dry Colour:
      Red Sandal Wood Powder / Raktachandan / Lalchandan (Pterocarpus santalinus) has a beautiful red colour, is extremely beneficial for the skin and is used in face packs, etc. This can be used instead of Red Gulal.
      Dry red hibiscus flowers in shade and powder to make a lovely red colour. To increase the bulk add any flour to it
      Sinduria, called Annato in English has a water chestnut shaped fruit which contains lovely brick colour red seeds. These yield both dry and wet colours.
      Wet colour
      Put 2 teaspoons of Red Sandal wood powder in a litre of water and boil. Dilute and use.
      Peels of Red Pomegranate boiled in water give red.
      For a bright orangish-red, mix thoroughly a pinch of chuna / lime powder (the one that we eat with our paan / betel leaves) with 2 spoons of haldi/ turmeric powder and a few drops of water. Use only after diluting with 10 litres of water.
      Extracting red from flower petals
      Buras (Rhododendron arboreum) known as Burans in the Garhwal hills and Brans in the Kumaon hills gives a lovely red colour when soaked in water overnight.
      Red hibiscus flowers soaked in water overnight give a red which also has medicinal value.
      The Palita Madar / Pangri / Indian Coral tree/ (Erythrina indica), found commonly in coastal regions, has large red flowers. Soak the flowers in water overnight.
      Boil wood of Madder Tree in water for a deep red.
      Red colour can also be obtained from juice of tomatoes and carrots. This can be diluted with sufficient quantity of water to remove the stickiness.
      Blue
      Dry Colour
      The Jacaranda flowers can be dried in the shade and ground to obtain a beautiful blue powder. The flowers bloom in summers.
      The blue Hibiscus which is found in Kerala can be dried and powdered just like the red hibiscus
      Wet Colour
      Crush the berries (fruits) of the Indigo plant and add to water for desired colour strength. In some Indigo species the leaves when boiled in water yield a rich blue.

      Magenta
      Wet Colour

      Slice or grate one Beet root. Soak in 1 litre of water for a wonderful magenta. Boil or leave overnight for a deeper shade. Dilute.
      Boil the peels of 10 – 15 pink Onions in half litre of water for an orangish-pink colour. Remove the peels before using to remove the smell.
      Soak Kachnar (Bauhinia variegata) flowers (pink variety) in water overnight, or boil for a pinkish colour.
      Saffron
      Wet Colour

      The Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma), known as Tesu, Palash or Dhak in vernacular languages, is the source of the wonderful, traditional colour for Holi. The flowers are soaked overnight in water and can also be boiled to obtain a fragrant yellowish – orange colored water.
      The dried flowers can be dried and powdered for a orange powder. Legend says that Lord Krishna used to play Holi with Tesu flowers, and the flowers also have a lot of medicinal properties. Tesu blooms during month of March.
      Boil flower petals of red variety of Semul / Silk Cotton (Bombax ceiba ) in water.
      Collect and dry the stalks of Harashringar / Parijatak (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) flowers during the early winter season. Soak them in water to get a pleasant coloured orange.
      Mix a pinch of Sandalwood powder from Ujjain (also used in our temples) in one litre of water for an instant, beautiful and fragrant saffron colour.
      Soak a few stalks of Saffron / Kesar in 2 table spoons of water. Leave for few hours and grind to make a fine paste. Dilute with water for desired colour strength. Though expensive, it is excellent for our skin.
      Brown
      Wet Colour

      Kattha (Acacia catechu), the one eaten in pan, when mixed with water will give a brownish colour.
      Boil Tea or Coffee leaves in water. Cool and use.
      Black
      Wet Colour

      Boil dried fruits of Amla / Indian Gooseberry in an iron vessel and leave overnight. Dilute with water and use.
      Extract juice of black grapes and dilute with sufficient quantity of water to remove stickiness

  • Kavita says:

    Hi, Kate
    I really like the way you have described the feel of holi with colours.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks Kavita. I’m glad to know you enjoyed the article. ~Kate

  • Great post. Holi is a fun filled and very colourful day! I also wrote about Holi on my blog. http://www.chaiacupoflife.com/holi

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks for stopping by my article on Holi and letting me know about yours. It is such a fun and colorful celebration that I love knowing more about it. Best, Kate

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