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Celebrating Holi As A Woman In Varanasi


by Drusilla Olivares



Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, is a vibrant and exuberant celebration that takes place annually in Varanasi, India. This ancient city, situated along the banks of the holy river Ganges, is known for its rich cultural heritage and deep-rooted traditions. Holi, in Varanasi, holds a special significance for women, as it provides them with a unique opportunity to participate in the festivities and express themselves freely.


Holi marks the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. It is a time when people come together to forgive and forget, to embrace love and harmony, and to celebrate the joy of life. The streets of Varanasi are filled with a riot of colors, as people throw gulal (colored powders) and splash water at each other, creating an atmosphere of sheer joy and merriment.


For women in Varanasi, Holi is more than just a religious or cultural event. It is a time when they break free from societal norms and express their inner joy and enthusiasm. It is a time when women can let loose, immerse themselves in the festivities, and truly celebrate their womanhood.


Throughout the years, Holi in Varanasi has seen a transformation in terms of women’s participation and empowerment. From being passive observers to active participants, women have become an integral part of the Holi celebrations, adding their own charm and vibrancy to the festivities.


This article will delve deeper into the history and significance of Holi in Varanasi, exploring the unique experiences and challenges faced by women during this colorful festival. We will also discuss the efforts made to ensure the safety and well-being of women during the celebrations, fostering a sense of empowerment and sisterhood. So, let us immerse ourselves in the kaleidoscope of colors and delve into the world of Holi celebrations in Varanasi.


History of Holi in Varanasi

The roots of Holi in Varanasi can be traced back to ancient Hindu mythology and legends. According to popular belief, the festival commemorates the divine love between Lord Krishna and Radha, the embodiment of pure and selfless love. It is said that Lord Krishna, known for his mischievous nature, would playfully throw colored powders and water at Radha and her friends, marking the beginning of the Holi celebrations.


In Varanasi, Holi has been celebrated for centuries, with its origins dating back to the time of Lord Rama. Legend has it that when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana, the entire city was lit up with lamps and flowers. This grand celebration, known as “Deepavali,” marked the victory of light over darkness. Over time, Deepavali merged with the Holi celebrations in Varanasi, creating a unique blend of festivities.


Varanasi, being a city of temples and spiritual significance, adds a distinct flavor to the Holi celebrations. The ghats of Varanasi, such as Dashashwamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat, come alive with color and music during Holi, as locals and tourists gather to participate in the festivities.


Each year, Varanasi witnesses a multitude of activities and events during Holi. The grand procession of Radha-Krishna idols, accompanied by singing and dancing, is a highlight of the celebrations. The streets and alleys are decorated with vibrant colors, and people engage in friendly battles of throwing colored powders and water at each other.


Traditional folk music and dance performances add to the lively atmosphere, filling the air with a sense of joy and enchantment. Women, dressed in colorful sarees and adorned with jewelry, join in the celebrations with great enthusiasm, painting a picturesque scene of unity and diversity.


Over the years, Holi in Varanasi has evolved into a grand spectacle, drawing tourists and enthusiasts from across the globe. It has become an opportunity for people to experience the rich culture and heritage of Varanasi while immersing themselves in the spirit of Holi.


The history of Holi in Varanasi is not just a reflection of the celebrations themselves, but also a testament to the enduring spirit and unity of the people. It is a reminder of the power of love, forgiveness, and togetherness that Holi propagates.


Significance of Holi for Women in Varanasi

Holi holds immense significance for women in Varanasi, as it provides them with a platform to break free from societal norms and express themselves freely. It is a celebration of their womanhood and a time to revel in the joy of unity and love.


One of the key aspects of Holi for women in Varanasi is the opportunity to embrace their creativity and artistic skills. Women indulge in the tradition of creating intricate rangoli designs, which are colorful patterns or artworks made with colored powders or flower petals. These intricate designs not only add beauty to their homes but also symbolize auspiciousness and prosperity.


Another significant aspect of Holi for women in Varanasi is the chance to showcase their culinary skills. They prepare a variety of traditional sweets and snacks, such as gujiya (a sweet dumpling filled with a mixture of khoya and dry fruits), malpua (a sweet pancake), and thandai (a refreshing drink made with milk, nuts, and spices). These delicacies are shared with family, friends, and neighbors, fostering a sense of community and togetherness.


During Holi, women in Varanasi also take part in folk songs and dances, such as the Raslila, a traditional dance form depicting the divine love of Radha and Krishna. They sing and dance together, adding to the festive atmosphere and creating a sense of unity and joy.


Moreover, Holi allows women in Varanasi to let go of inhibitions and playfully engage in friendly battles of colors. They enthusiastically participate in the tradition of throwing colored powders and water at each other, symbolizing the breaking down of barriers and the spirit of equality.


For many women, Holi in Varanasi is a time to reconnect with their roots and celebrate their individuality. It is an occasion where they can dress up in vibrant and traditional attire, accessorize with jewelry, and take pride in their culture and heritage.


Furthermore, Holi presents an opportunity for women to forge new friendships and strengthen existing bonds. They connect with fellow women in their neighborhoods and communities, exchanging greetings, sweets, and blessings. Holi becomes a platform for fostering sisterhood and building support networks.


In essence, Holi holds a deep significance for women in Varanasi, as it provides them with a space to express themselves, celebrate their womanhood, showcase their talents, and forge connections. It is a time to break free from societal stereotypes, embrace joy and unity, and revel in the colors of life.


Preparations for Holi Celebrations

The preparations for Holi celebrations in Varanasi begin weeks before the actual festival. There is a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air as people gear up to immerse themselves in the joyous festivities.


One of the main preparations for Holi is the gathering of essential materials. People stock up on vibrant colored powders, known as gulal, which are made from natural ingredients like turmeric, sandalwood, and flower extracts. Water guns, water balloons, and buckets are also purchased to enhance the fun and playfulness during Holi.


Another important aspect of the preparations is the selection of traditional Holi sweets and snacks. Women in households across Varanasi indulge in the art of cooking and baking, preparing a variety of delicacies like gujiya, malpua, and thandai. These mouthwatering treats are made in large quantities to be shared with family, friends, and neighbors during the celebrations.


Cleaning and decorating the house is also an integral part of the preparations. Families in Varanasi engage in thorough cleaning of their homes, getting rid of clutter and creating a fresh and welcoming atmosphere. The walls and doorways are adorned with colorful decorations, such as strings of marigold flowers and handmade paper craft.


In addition, women in households take the lead in creating beautiful rangoli designs at the entrance of their homes. They use colored powders, flower petals, and even grains to create intricate and eye-catching patterns, symbolizing prosperity and welcome.


It is also common to see women shopping for new clothes, especially for Holi. The markets of Varanasi are filled with vibrant sarees and suits, with women enthusiastically selecting outfits that reflect the spirit of joy and celebration.


Furthermore, in the days leading up to Holi, communities in Varanasi organize cultural events and programs to prepare for the grand celebrations. Rehearsals for folk dances and music performances take place, adding to the anticipation and enthusiasm among the participants.


Overall, the preparations for Holi in Varanasi are marked by a sense of excitement, creativity, and tradition. It is a time when households come alive with activity, as people gather the necessary materials, decorate their homes, prepare delectable sweets, and engage in cultural practices that make the festival truly special.


Traditional Customs and Rituals for Women during Holi

Holi in Varanasi is a festival filled with a multitude of traditional customs and rituals, and women play an active role in preserving and practicing these age-old traditions. These customs not only add charm to the celebrations but also hold deep cultural and religious significance.


One of the prominent rituals during Holi is the lighting of Holika bonfires, known as Holika Dahan, which takes place on the night before Holi. Women in Varanasi actively participate in this ritual by offering prayers and performing traditional dances around the bonfire. This ritual symbolizes the victory of good over evil, as it commemorates the legend of Prahlad and Holika.


Women in Varanasi also practice the custom of Lathmar Holi, which translates to “Holi with sticks.” In this tradition, women playfully “beat” men with sticks, who protect themselves with shields. This playful act reenacts the love story of Lord Krishna and Radha, where Krishna playfully teased Radha and her friends during the festival. Lathmar Holi showcases the strong and spirited nature of women, who bravely take part in this lighthearted battle of love and playfulness.


Another significant ritual during Holi is the application of tilak on the forehead. Women in Varanasi prepare a mixture of colored powders and apply it on each other’s foreheads as a mark of blessings and goodwill. This exchange of tilak not only fosters a sense of unity and brotherhood but also signifies the triumph of good over evil.


In addition to these rituals, women also engage in the traditional practice of singing Holi songs and folk melodies called “Hori.” These songs are often dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha and portray various aspects of their divine love story. Women gather in groups, sway to the melodies, and sing soulful songs, adding a heartfelt touch to the celebrations.


The custom of offering prayers and performing aarti is also followed by women during Holi. They visit temples dedicated to Radha and Krishna, seeking their blessings for a prosperous and joyful life. They light candles, present offerings of sweets and fruits, and immerse themselves in the spiritual atmosphere.


Furthermore, women in Varanasi engage in the tradition of “playfully teasing” men during Holi. They playfully throw colored powders and water at their male counterparts, expressing their playfulness, camaraderie, and unbridled enthusiasm. This act of teasing is in accordance with the legends of Lord Krishna, who playfully splashed water and colors on the women of his village during Holi.


Overall, the traditional customs and rituals during Holi in Varanasi are passed down through generations, reflecting the rich cultural heritage and religious beliefs of the city. Women actively participate in these rituals, adding their unique touch and keeping the spirit of Holi alive.


Challenges Faced by Women during Holi Celebrations

While Holi celebrations in Varanasi are filled with joy and excitement, there are certain challenges that women may encounter during the festivities. It is essential to address these challenges to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for everyone to enjoy the celebrations.


One of the primary challenges faced by women during Holi is the issue of consent and boundaries. The playful nature of the festival sometimes leads to situations where individuals, especially men, may cross the line and engage in unwanted touch or behavior. It is crucial to educate and raise awareness about consent, emphasizing the importance of respecting personal boundaries and avoiding any form of harassment.


Another challenge is the misuse of colors and water by some individuals. While the spirit of Holi encourages the application of colored powders and splashing water, it is important to use these playfully and respectfully. Women may face situations where they are targeted excessively or forcefully with colors or water, which can be uncomfortable or even lead to health issues. Strict guidelines and awareness campaigns should be implemented to ensure that Holi celebrations remain joyful and safe for everyone involved.


During Holi, there is often an increase in the consumption of alcohol and intoxicating substances. This can create an atmosphere of rowdiness and unruly behavior. Women may feel uncomfortable or unsafe in such environments and may face challenges in navigating crowded spaces or dealing with individuals under the influence. It is crucial to have appropriate safety measures in place, including increased security and monitoring, to ensure the well-being of all participants.


The use of synthetic and chemical-based colors during Holi can also pose challenges for women. These colors may cause skin allergies, rashes, or other adverse reactions. It is important to promote the usage of natural and eco-friendly colors, which are gentle on the skin and are environmentally sustainable. Creating awareness about the harmful effects of chemical colors and providing alternatives can significantly reduce the risks faced by women during Holi celebrations.


Furthermore, the risk of pickpocketing and theft increases during crowded Holi gatherings. Women may face challenges in safeguarding their belongings, as busy and energetic celebrations can create opportunities for miscreants. Ensuring proper security and organizing Holi events in well-monitored locations can help mitigate these challenges.


Addressing these challenges requires a collective effort from society, event organizers, and participants. By promoting respectful behavior, raising awareness about consent and boundaries, providing safe environments, and advocating for the use of natural colors, women can fully enjoy the spirit of Holi without facing unnecessary challenges or discomfort.


Empowerment and Sisterhood during Holi

Holi in Varanasi not only brings about joy and fun but also fosters a sense of empowerment and sisterhood among women. The festival serves as a platform for women to come together, support one another, and celebrate their strength and unity.


One of the ways in which Holi empowers women is by breaking societal barriers and encouraging them to embrace their individuality. During Holi, women have the freedom to express themselves through the vibrant colors they wear, the creative rangoli designs they create, and the dances and music performances they take part in. This celebration of self-expression helps women celebrate their unique identities and assert their agency.


Holi also serves as a reminder of the strength and resilience of women. In Varanasi, women actively participate in the festivities, engaging in friendly battles of colors and playfully teasing men. This act showcases their confidence, fearlessness, and ability to assert themselves in a traditionally male-dominated space. It fosters a spirit of empowerment and reminds women of their inherent strength.


Moreover, Holi strengthens the bond among women in Varanasi, creating a sense of sisterhood and camaraderie. Women come together in their communities and neighborhoods, exchanging greetings, sweets, and blessings. They support one another, laugh, and share stories, fostering a deep sense of connection and solidarity.


During Holi, women in Varanasi also engage in cultural activities such as singing Holi songs and performing folk dances. These activities provide a platform for women to showcase their talents, express their creativity, and celebrate their shared heritage. This collective celebration of arts and culture further strengthens the sense of sisterhood among women.


Holi is also an occasion for forgiveness and reconciliation. Women embrace the spirit of the festival by letting go of grudges and animosity, and instead, embracing love and forgiveness. It is a time for healing and strengthening relationships, both within families and in the larger community. Through this act of forgiveness, women in Varanasi foster a sense of unity and sisterhood.


Furthermore, Holi allows women to experience a temporary shift in societal norms and roles. During the festival, women often take on more assertive and active roles, participating in rituals and celebrations traditionally dominated by men. This inversion of gender roles serves as a reminder of the inherent strength and capability of women, promoting a sense of empowerment.


Overall, Holi in Varanasi empowers women by providing them with a space to express themselves, celebrate their strength, and foster a deep sense of sisterhood. It serves as a celebration of their individuality, resilience, and unity, creating an inclusive and empowering environment for women to thrive.


Safety Measures for Women during Holi in Varanasi

Ensuring the safety and well-being of women during Holi celebrations in Varanasi is of utmost importance. While Holi is a joyous festival, it is crucial to implement certain safety measures to create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone involved.


One of the primary safety measures is the presence of increased security personnel in and around Holi celebration areas. This includes deploying additional police officers and security guards to manage crowds, prevent untoward incidents, and maintain order. Their presence acts as a deterrent to any form of harassment or misconduct.


Organizers of Holi events should establish designated safe zones or safe spaces for women. These areas can be monitored by female volunteers or security personnel to provide assistance and support to women who may feel uncomfortable or unsafe in crowded or rowdy environments.


Education and awareness campaigns play a vital role in ensuring the safety of women during Holi. These campaigns should focus on promoting consent and respect, educating attendees about appropriate behavior, and encouraging bystander intervention. Awareness programs can be conducted in schools, colleges, and community centers to raise awareness about gender-based violence and harassment.


It is essential to promote the use of natural and eco-friendly colors during Holi. Chemical-based colors can cause skin allergies and other health issues. Encouraging the use of natural colors, made from flower extracts or organic materials, not only ensures the safety of women but also protects the environment.


Creating well-lit and well-monitored spaces during Holi celebrations is crucial for the safety of women. Adequate lighting helps in preventing incidents of theft and pickpocketing. Installing CCTV cameras in strategic locations can also aid in monitoring activities and ensuring the safety and security of participants.


Organizers should provide accessible and clean restroom facilities for women. Having separate and well-maintained restrooms ensures the privacy and comfort of women during the festivities.


Women should be encouraged to travel in groups during Holi, as there is safety in numbers. Friends, neighbors, or family members can coordinate and move together to ensure mutual support and assistance.


It is advisable for women to dress modestly and comfortably during Holi celebrations. Wearing clothes that cover the body appropriately helps to avoid unwarranted attention and ensures a sense of safety and comfort.


In addition to these measures, it is important for the community, event organizers, and participants to be vigilant and actively intervene if they witness any form of harassment or misconduct. By collectively taking responsibility and standing up against any inappropriate behavior, the safety and well-being of women during Holi can be better ensured.


By implementing these safety measures, Holi celebrations in Varanasi can become a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone, allowing women to fully participate in the festivities without any concerns for their well-being.



Holi in Varanasi is more than just a festival – it is a celebration of culture, empowerment, and sisterhood. Throughout the centuries, Holi has evolved into a vibrant and dynamic festival that holds immense significance for women in Varanasi. It provides them with a platform to break free from societal norms, express themselves, and embrace their womanhood.


The history and traditions of Holi in Varanasi reflect the rich cultural heritage and deep-rooted beliefs of the city. From the legends of Lord Krishna and Radha to the age-old customs and rituals, Holi in Varanasi showcases the enduring spirit of love, unity, and triumph over evil.


Women play a pivotal role in the Holi celebrations, bringing their creativity, talents, and enthusiasm to the forefront. They actively participate in preparing for the festival, engaging in rituals, and sharing the joys of Holi with their community.


While Holi brings immense joy, it is important to address the challenges faced by women and ensure their safety during the celebrations. Implementing safety measures, promoting consent and respect, and raising awareness about gender-based violence are some of the key steps towards creating a safe and inclusive environment for women.


Holi in Varanasi empowers women by providing them with opportunities for self-expression, allowing them to break free from societal constraints, and fostering a sense of sisterhood. Through their active participation, women celebrate their strength, resilience, and unity.


As we immerse ourselves in the kaleidoscope of colors during Holi in Varanasi, let us cherish the cultural heritage, promote inclusivity, and embrace the empowering spirit of the festival. By doing so, we can make Holi in Varanasi a celebration that truly reflects the values of love, togetherness, and the power of women.