Holi is the festival of colours celebrated on the 40th day from Vasant Panchami as per the Hindu Calendar at such a scale that makes it one of the revered festivals that are celebrated in India. It is ideally a two day festival and starts with the symbolic burning of ‘Holika’ a sister of Hirannyakashyap (Demon King) on whose orders she attempted to burn ‘Prahlaad’ alive, his own Son due to his unquestionable faith in Lord Shri Hari Vishnu Ji. Holika had a boon that fire will never be able to harm her but while attempting to burn ‘Prahlaad’ who started chanting ‘Narayann-Narayann’ the moment she stepped into fire with him on his lap. But ‘Prahlaad’ wasn’t harmed though Holika despite the boon got burnt and converted into ashes. Her death is thus celebrated on the eve of Holi, a day in advance to as a symbolic win of faith on the Lord Shri Hari Vishnu Ji and the loss of demonic powers and evil deeds. On this fire it is a tradition to offer the grains of the freshest of harvest and seek blessings from Vishnu Ji and the next morning colour gets merged with a passion with each other. Abir-Gulal can be seen any and everywhere.
Though this festival of colours is celebrated pan India but the scale, the fervour with which it is celebrated in Varanasi that is also renowned as the Spiritual Capital of India holds a unique place, has a crown of its own. The serpentine ever twisting alleyways each leading into the ‘Ghats’ are all smeared with Abir & Gulal two of the favourite colours used abundantly on the day of Holi. This colourful carpet changes colour with every step and even the bovines in this city of Lord Shiva are coloured from head to hoof. The whole city takes on a coat of colour.
Holi in Varanasi isn’t complete without ‘Thandai’ and rather than drinking anything lesser then the real thing or to get doomed with anything spurious it is always better to order your share of ‘Thandai’ from Kashi Vishwanath ‘Thandai’ Ghar. It is a drink made with loads of dryfruits, a careful quantity of bhaang ‘Marijuana’ mixed with milk. Holi in Kashi aka Varanasi isn’t complete without ‘Thandai’. It is the favourite drink of Lord Shiva himself and one can really feel its calming effects but still it is advised not to overdose with it and consume it in reasonable quantity amongst a group of people you know and are comfortable with. Joining youngsters offering this classy drink on the streets to travellers in the name of authentic holi experience has at times reported as turning into untoward incidents post ‘Thandai’ consumption.
The best place to enjoy this festival in its truest of forms is to celebrate it amongst people you know and are comfortable with, the terraces are often termed as the vantage point to be an observant and participant in this boisterous colourful extravaganza. As it may become uneasy in the middle of the streets complete with unknown faces behind the colour. Safety and precaution should never be compromised with even if you are travelling in the safest of locations, specially attending a revelry of colourful festivals.
Varanasi has a nice system to call it a day before it goes too high in the fervour of colours and ‘Thandai’ a siren around afternoon is a signal to take this celebration within the confines of individual homes leaving the streets free for the life to spring back on the already colourful streets and alleyways of this ancient city. Life starts coming to normalcy with horde’s taking a bath on the famous ‘Ghats’ turning ‘Ganga’ into a river with multicolured hues.
Any festival in India isn’t complete without food and this festival is no exception to that universal law. Puri, Pakaudi, Aalu Jira, Rayta, Jalebi aren’t the only things that get savoured on this day but Holi isn’t complete without ‘Gujiya’ a sweet preparation using loads of dryfruits, sweetened cottage cheese exquisitely rolled pancakes and deep fried in clarified butter. The food and great food has always been a part of calling it a day in any culture across the human civilisation, and this ancient city is not different to this gastronomic rule. Recipes in all taste are served which aren’t limited to vegetarian dishes but serve the non-vegetarian taste buds too.
You can be a part of ‘Holi’ celebration anywhere in India but the unique experience of being in Varanasi is one of its kind. The city of Lord Shiva awaits the merry colourful reveler in you to be a part of its serpentine alleyways full of life and be savoured in all the hues of colours. Be a part of it, even if just as an observer. A tad of colour here and there shouldn’t bother you, as they say, ‘Bura Na Maano Holi Hai’, don’t feel bad it’s ‘Holi’.