Holi, often called the "festival of colors," is a vibrant and joyful Hindu celebration that marks spring’s arrival, the triumph of good over evil, and the legendary love between Radha and Krishna. 

This festival, mainly observed in South Asia but also recognized globally, typically spans two days and is rooted in ancient traditions, mythology and community gatherings. Its date changes, as it is based on the full moon in the month of Phalguna, part of the Hindu lunar calendar, usually falling in late February or March. In 2024, Holi falls on Monday, March 25.

Holi, dating back to the 4th century, stands alongside Diwali, the festival of lights, as one of the most prominent Hindu celebrations and is famous for the playful tossing of colored powders and water.

The Roots of Holi: Mythology and Legend

Holi's origins are deeply embedded in Hindu mythology, enriched with various stories and legends. One famous tale revolves around the legend of an arrogant and powerful demon king, Hiranyakashipu, and his son Prahlad, who defied his father's wishes by worshipping the deity Vishnu. In a bid to kill Prahlad, Hiranyakashipu conspired with his sister, Holika, to burn him alive. But through divine intervention, Prahlad was unharmed, while Holika perished in the flames. The legend symbolizes the victory of good over evil, a theme central to Holi celebrations.

Also connected to Holi festivities is the love story of Radha and Krishna. According to Hindu mythology, the deity Krishna, whose skin was turned blue by a demon, was enamored by Radha, the epitome of love and devotion.

“Worried that Radha would be turned off by his unnatural appearance, Krishna vented to his mother, who playfully suggested that he smear colored powder on Radha’s face,” CNN reports. “Upon doing so, Radha fell in love with Krishna.”

Holi Rituals and Traditions

In India, where Holi is a national holiday, festivities traditionally begin with Holika Dahan the night before the main event. People light bonfires to honor the triumph of righteousness and sing and dance around them. They might also throw wood, leaves, grains or chickpeas into the flames as a symbolic gesture of letting go of negativity and welcoming the new season with positivity. 

The following day, known as Rangwali Holi, streets burst with color as scores of revelers playfully toss gulal (colored powders) and water at each other, an homage to Radha and Krishna’s love. 

Colors play a significant role in Holi, representing various emotions and elements of nature. Red symbolizes love and fertility, yellow signifies prosperity and new beginnings, blue is associated with the divine Krishna and green embodies the rejuvenation of life and the onset of spring. The throwing of these colors isn’t just fun—it’s a way to celebrate the changing seasons and create a communal sense of unity.

Transitioning from Winter to Spring

Holi also marks the shift from winter to spring, and celebrations with family and friends include sweet treats and drinks. Gujiya, a sweet dumpling-like pastry filled with dried fruits, nuts and other ingredients, symbolizes abundance. The traditional Indian milk drink thandai, infused with sugar, spices, nuts and saffron, and lassi, a yogurt drink flavored with fruits, spices or herbs, are also popular. According to the Hindustan Times, thandai brings “feelings of relief from the scorching heat of summers.” 

The Hindu American Foundation notes that Holi is sometimes compared to Thanksgiving in the U.S., as spring is the time of harvest in the region. Decorations fill Hindu temples, and there’s a focus on harmony and fresh starts. “Holi encourages people to forgive and forget–to pay off old debts, renew broken relationships and make new friends." 


“Why India celebrates Holi: The legends behind the festival of color,” CNN
“Why Holi Is the ‘Festival of Colors,’” Time
“Here’s What You Should Know About the Hindu Festival of Holi,” Time
“Holi: The story of Holika and Prahad,” BBC
“Holi 2023: India celebrates festival of colours,” BBC
“What to know about Holi, the festival of colors,” CNN
“What is Holi? Why is it celebrated? What to know about the Hindu festival of colors,” USA Today
“The Meaning Behind the Many Colors of India’s Holi Festival,” Smithsonian Magazine
“5 things to know about Holi,” Hindu American Foundation