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Complete Guide To Celebrating Holi In Varanasi


by Beverley Llewellyn



Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, is one of the most vibrant and joyous festivals celebrated in India. It marks the arrival of spring and the victory of good over evil. While Holi is celebrated throughout the country, the city of Varanasi holds a special place when it comes to the grandeur and exuberance of the festivities.


Varanasi, also known as Kashi or Banaras, is considered one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is famous for its rich cultural heritage, spiritual significance, and the holy River Ganges flowing through its heart. When Holi approaches, Varanasi comes alive with an electrifying atmosphere filled with colors, music, and a sense of celebration.


The traditions and rituals of Holi in Varanasi are deeply rooted in mythology and history. People from all walks of life come together to take part in the revelries, spreading happiness, and fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie.


In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the history and significance of Holi in Varanasi. We will explore the elaborate preparations, popular destinations for playing Holi, traditional rituals, safety measures, delicious food, famous events, and provide useful tips for tourists planning to visit Varanasi during this festive season.


Whether you are a local looking to immerse yourself in the spirit of Holi or a traveler seeking a unique cultural experience, this guide is your go-to resource for making the most of Holi in Varanasi.


History of Holi in Varanasi

The history of Holi in Varanasi can be traced back centuries to various mythological events and folklore. One of the prominent legends associated with Holi is the story of Lord Krishna and Radha. It is believed that Lord Krishna, who hailed from the nearby village of Vrindavan, used to visit Varanasi to celebrate Holi with his beloved consort, Radha, and his friends.


The celebration of Holi in Varanasi also finds its roots in Hindu mythology. According to ancient scriptures, Lord Shiva, one of the holy trinity of Hindu gods, performed the Tandava dance during springtime in the city. The Tandava dance symbolizes destruction and creation, marking the transition from winter to spring.


Another tale associated with Holi in Varanasi is the legend of Prahlada and Holika. Prahlada, a devotee of Lord Vishnu, was saved by the divine grace when his aunt, Holika, who had a boon of immunity from fire, tried to burn him. This event signifies the triumph of good over evil, and people celebrate Holi by burning effigies of Holika on the eve of the festival.


The historical significance of Holi in Varanasi is closely linked to the city’s deep cultural and religious heritage. Varanasi has been a center of learning and spirituality for thousands of years, and Holi is an integral part of the city’s identity.


In addition to its mythological origins, Holi in Varanasi also has historical and cultural dimensions. During the Mughal era, the festival of Holi gained popularity in Varanasi and became an occasion for people of different religions and communities to come together and celebrate.


Today, Holi in Varanasi is a vibrant and inclusive festival, embracing the city’s history and diversity. The celebrations attract visitors from all over the world who want to experience the colorful and energetic atmosphere that permeates the narrow lanes and ghats (steps) along the Ganges.


The history of Holi in Varanasi is a testament to the city’s rich cultural tapestry and its ability to preserve and celebrate traditions from ancient times. The festival continues to bring people together, bridging gaps and spreading the message of love, unity, and harmony.


Significance of Holi in Varanasi

Holi holds immense significance in Varanasi, beyond just being a festival of colors and joy. The festival brings with it a deeper spiritual and cultural meaning that resonates with the locals and visitors alike.


One of the main significance of Holi in Varanasi lies in its association with the legend of Lord Krishna. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna is believed to have played Holi with his consort Radha and the gopis (cowherd girls) in the region of Vrindavan, which is in close proximity to Varanasi. The love, devotion, and playfulness depicted in their Holi celebrations serve as a reminder to people to embrace joy and celebrate life.


Varanasi is also known as the “City of Temples” and is considered one of the holiest places in Hinduism. The festival of Holi holds a deep spiritual significance in this sacred city. It is believed that by participating in the colorful revelries of Holi, one can cleanse their sins, renew their spirit, and seek blessings for a prosperous year ahead.


Holi is also a time for reconciliation and forgiveness. The festival provides an opportunity for people to mend broken relationships, erase past grievances, and start afresh. It is a time to let go of negativity and embrace love, unity, and harmony.


Furthermore, Holi is celebrated to welcome the arrival of spring and bid farewell to winter. It is a festival of renewal and rebirth, symbolizing the triumph of life over death. The vibrant colors used during Holi represent the blossoming of flowers, the reawakening of nature, and the joy of new beginnings.


Along with its spiritual and cultural significance, Holi in Varanasi also serves as a platform for social bonding and community cohesion. Friends, families, and neighbors come together to play Holi, exchange greetings, and share laughter. It is a time when social barriers are temporarily dissolved, and people from different backgrounds and walks of life come together in a spirit of camaraderie.


The significance of Holi in Varanasi goes beyond its surface-level celebrations. It encompasses the values of love, forgiveness, harmony, and the celebration of life’s vibrant colors. The festival serves as a reminder to embrace the joys of existence and to nurture relationships with others and the natural world around us.


Preparation for Holi Celebration

The preparations for Holi in Varanasi begin well in advance, as the city gears up for the grand festival of colors. People engage in various activities to ensure that the celebration is elaborate, joyful, and memorable.


One of the key aspects of preparing for Holi is the procurement of colors. Vibrant powders, also known as “gulal,” are an essential part of the festivities. These colors are available in a wide range of hues and are sourced from natural substances like flowers, herbs, and vegetables. The markets of Varanasi are filled with shops selling these colorful powders, attracting locals and tourists alike.


In addition to gulal, water guns and water balloons are also popular accessories for Holi celebrations. Known as “pichkaris” and “lolas,” they add an extra element of fun by allowing people to playfully drench each other with colored water. These items are readily available in local markets, and children especially look forward to wielding these playful water weapons during the festivities.


Another important part of the preparations is organizing social gatherings and community events. Friends, families, and neighborhoods come together to plan Holi parties, where they can enjoy music, dance, and indulge in the festive spirit. People also exchange Holi greetings and gifts as a way of spreading joy and strengthening relationships.


Traditional sweets and delicacies play a significant role in the preparations for Holi. Special treats like “gujiya” (sweet dumplings), “malpua” (pancakes), and “thandai” (a refreshing drink made with milk, nuts, and spices) are prepared in households across Varanasi. These delectable treats add a delicious touch to the celebrations and are eagerly shared among family and friends.


Cleaning and decorating homes are also important aspects of the preparations. People engage in spring cleaning, ensuring that their homes are spotless and ready for the festivities. Colorful decorations, like streamers and balloons, are put up to create a festive ambiance. The fragrance of incense and the sounds of devotional music fill the air during this time, adding to the overall festive atmosphere.


Lastly, ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone participating in the festivities is essential. People are encouraged to use organic colors to prevent any harm to the environment and to their own health. It is also recommended to protect the skin and hair by applying oil or using protective clothing to prevent any staining from the colors.


The preparation for Holi in Varanasi is a collective effort that involves not just the individuals, but the entire community. The city comes alive with vibrant colors, laughter, and a palpable sense of excitement as the preparations unfold, setting the stage for a truly memorable Holi celebration.


Best Places to Play Holi in Varanasi

Varanasi, with its rich cultural heritage and breathtaking scenery, offers numerous locations for an unforgettable Holi celebration. Whether you prefer a peaceful and spiritual ambiance or a lively and energetic atmosphere, this city has something for everyone. Here are some of the best places to play Holi in Varanasi:

  1. Assi Ghat: Located at the confluence of River Ganges and Assi River, Assi Ghat is a popular spot for Holi celebrations. The ghat comes alive with music, dance, and colors as people gather to participate in the revelries. The sight of people smearing each other with vibrant gulal and splashing water adds a joyous vibe to the festivities.
  2. Dashashwamedh Ghat: Situated in the heart of Varanasi, Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the oldest and most iconic ghats in the city. It is a prime location for Holi celebrations, attracting a large crowd of locals and tourists. The ghat offers a stunning view of the Ganges, and the energy and enthusiasm during Holi make it an unforgettable experience.
  3. Manikarnika Ghat: One of the most sacred and significant cremation ghats in Varanasi, Manikarnika Ghat also becomes a vibrant hub during Holi. Celebrations here are a unique blend of spirituality and festivity as people come together to play with colors and honor the ancient traditions of the city.
  4. Bharat Mata Temple: Holi celebrations at the Bharat Mata Temple offer a different dimension to the festivities. The temple premises become a joyful playground as people indulge in a playful riot of colors and revel in the festive spirit. This location provides a spiritual and cultural backdrop for a memorable Holi experience.
  5. Sarnath: Just a short distance from Varanasi, Sarnath is a tranquil and serene location known for its Buddhist heritage. Celebrating Holi in Sarnath offers a peaceful and reflective atmosphere amidst the lush greenery and ancient ruins. Visitors can enjoy a more subdued and contemplative Holi experience while appreciating the spirituality of the place.
  6. Local Neighborhoods: The streets and neighborhoods of Varanasi come alive with Holi fervor as locals engage in boisterous celebrations. Exploring the narrow alleys and joining in the fun with the residents allows for an authentic and immersive experience of Holi in Varanasi. The vibrant colors and laughter create an unforgettable atmosphere.

When choosing a place to play Holi in Varanasi, it is important to consider your preferences, the kind of experience you seek, and your comfort level with large crowds. No matter where you choose to celebrate, the spirit of Holi in Varanasi will undoubtedly leave you with cherished memories and a deeper connection to the city’s vibrant culture and traditions.


Popular Holi Rituals in Varanasi

Holi in Varanasi is celebrated with a unique blend of traditional rituals and exuberant festivities. The city is known for its deep-rooted culture and spiritual significance, and these rituals add a special touch to the Holi celebrations. Here are some of the popular Holi rituals in Varanasi:

  1. Holika Dahan: The festival of Holi in Varanasi begins with the ritual of Holika Dahan, also known as the bonfire. A large pyre is built in public spaces or neighborhood squares, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil. People gather around the bonfire and offer prayers, sing hymns, and perform traditional dances around the fire. The fire represents the burning of negative energies and the beginning of a new phase filled with positivity and joy.
  2. Playing with Colors: The highlight of Holi is the playing with colors. In Varanasi, people gather in open spaces, streets, and even on the ghats to play Holi with vibrant gulal and colored waters. They smudge each other’s faces, sprinkle colors, and soak each other with water guns and water balloons. The playful and joyful atmosphere creates a sense of unity and camaraderie as people of all ages and backgrounds join in the revelry.
  3. Singing Holi Songs: Music is an integral part of Holi celebrations in Varanasi. Groups of people gather to sing traditional Holi songs, known as “Holi ke geet” or “Bhojpuri Holi songs.” These songs, accompanied by traditional instruments like dholak and manjira, add a lively and festive touch to the celebrations. The rhythmic beats and melodious tunes create an infectious energy, urging everyone to dance and sing along.
  4. Feasting on Holi Delicacies: Food plays a vital role in Holi celebrations in Varanasi. Special delicacies are prepared, including savory and sweet dishes. Traditional Holi foods such as gujiya (sweet dumplings filled with khoya and dry fruits), malpua (pancakes soaked in syrup), and thandai (a refreshing milk-based drink infused with aromatic spices) are savored and shared with family and friends. These delicious treats add flavor and indulgence to the festivities.
  5. The Lathmar Holi: A unique Holi tradition in Varanasi is the Lathmar Holi, which takes place in the nearby town of Barsana. In this playful ritual, women playfully beat men with sticks (lathis), while men try to protect themselves with shields. The Lathmar Holi celebrates the eternal love between Lord Krishna and Radha and reenacts their playful banter. It is a lively and entertaining event that attracts visitors from all over the world.
  6. Holi Processions: Processions are an integral part of the Holi celebrations in Varanasi. Devotees dressed in vibrant traditional attire gather to form grand processions through the streets of the city. The processions are accompanied by music, dance, and enthusiastic singing, spreading joy and fervor. The processions often include people dressed as mythological characters, imparting a touch of cultural and religious significance to the festivities.

These popular Holi rituals in Varanasi encapsulate the essence of the festival – the victory of good over evil, the celebration of love and harmony, and the joy of new beginnings. They create an immersive experience, allowing residents and visitors alike to connect with the city’s rich culture and traditions while embracing the vibrant spirit of Holi.


Safety Measures during Holi in Varanasi

While Holi is a joyful and colorful festival, it’s important to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone participating in the celebrations. Here are some essential safety measures to keep in mind during Holi in Varanasi:

  1. Use Organic Colors: Opt for natural or organic colors made from flowers or herbal ingredients. These colors are not only safe for your skin and hair but also eco-friendly and do not harm the environment.
  2. Protective Clothing: Wear clothes that cover most of your body to minimize direct contact with colors. Choose old or dark-colored clothes that you don’t mind getting stained. It is also advisable to wear a hat or scarf to protect your hair from excessive color.
  3. Apply Oil: Before playing Holi, generously apply a layer of coconut or olive oil on your skin, including your face and hair. The oil acts as a protective barrier and makes it easier to remove the colors later without causing any skin damage.
  4. Mindful with Eyes and Ears: Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses or using protective eyewear. Avoid applying colors near or in the eyes to prevent irritation or allergic reactions. Be cautious with your ears as well and do not put any colored powder or water inside the ears.
  5. Be Mindful of Water Quality: When playing with colored water, ensure that the water is clean and free from any contaminants. Avoid using water from unknown sources to prevent skin infections or allergies. If possible, use clean and filtered water to minimize any health risks.
  6. Avoid Harmful Practices: Refrain from using any harmful or toxic substances during Holi, such as chemical-based colors, permanent dyes, or synthetic products. These can cause skin allergies, rashes, or other adverse reactions. Stick to natural and safe alternatives for a joyful and healthy celebration.
  7. Respect Personal Boundaries: While playing Holi, respect the personal boundaries and consent of others. Seek permission before applying colors on someone and understand that not everyone may be comfortable participating in the festivities. Always be mindful of the comfort and consent of others.
  8. Stay Hydrated: During long hours of celebration, it’s essential to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water or non-alcoholic beverages to keep yourself refreshed and energized throughout the day.
  9. Supervise Children: If children are participating in the celebrations, ensure that they are supervised by adults at all times. Guide them on safe practices and keep them away from crowded or potentially risky areas.
  10. Take Care of Pets: Keep a safe distance between pets and the Holi festivities. Colors and loud noises can stress or harm animals, so it’s best to keep them indoors or in a safe and comfortable environment during this time.

By following these safety measures, you can ensure that your Holi celebrations in Varanasi are enjoyable, safe, and free from any untoward incidents. It’s always better to prioritize safety while embracing the spirit of this vibrant festival.


Traditional Holi Food in Varanasi

Holi in Varanasi is not just a festival of colors but also a delightful occasion to indulge in a variety of traditional foods and sweets. These special Holi delicacies are prepared with love and are an essential part of the festive celebrations. Here are some traditional Holi foods in Varanasi that you must sample:

  1. Gujiya: Gujiya is an iconic sweet treat associated with Holi celebrations. It is a deep-fried pastry filled with a sweet mixture of khoya (dried milk), nuts, and dried fruits. These crescent-shaped dumplings are then dipped in sugar syrup, making them irresistibly delicious. Gujiya is a must-have during Holi in Varanasi.
  2. Malpua: Malpua is a popular dessert made during Holi. These fluffy pancakes are prepared by dipping batter into hot ghee (clarified butter) and then soaked in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom and saffron. Malpua is often garnished with chopped nuts and served warm, offering a delightful combination of texture and sweetness.
  3. Thandai: Thandai is a refreshing and aromatic drink synonymous with Holi festivities. It is made by blending a mixture of milk, nuts (such as almonds, cashews, and pistachios), saffron, cardamom, and rose syrup. The resulting concoction is chilled and served cold, providing a soothing and rejuvenating experience amidst the energetic celebrations.
  4. Poori-Aloo: Poori (deep-fried bread) and Aloo (potato curry) is a classic combination enjoyed during Holi. Freshly made pooris, puffed and golden, are served with a spiced potato curry. This savory dish provides a hearty and satisfying meal that is enjoyed with gusto during Holi festivities.
  5. Dahi Vada: Dahi Vada is a popular street food snack that makes its presence during Holi celebrations. Soft lentil fritters, known as vadas, are soaked in a creamy yogurt mixture and then topped with tangy tamarind chutney and a sprinkle of spices. These cool and tangy treats are loved by people of all ages and add a refreshing element to the festive spread.
  6. Pani Puri: Pani Puri, also known as Golgappa or Puchka, is a beloved street food snack enjoyed during Holi in Varanasi. This crispy, hollow puri is filled with a mixture of spiced mashed potatoes, chickpeas, and tamarind water. The burst of flavors and the combination of tanginess and spice make Pani Puri a popular choice during the festive season.

These traditional Holi foods in Varanasi bring a burst of flavors and add a touch of indulgence to the festivities. They are an integral part of Holi traditions, and savoring them creates a sense of joy and nostalgia. So, make sure you try these delectable treats and embrace the culinary delights of Holi in Varanasi.


Famous Holi Events in Varanasi

Holi in Varanasi is not merely limited to neighborhood celebrations but also features several famous events and festivities that attract locals and tourists alike. These events offer a unique and memorable way to enjoy the vibrancy and exuberance of Holi. Here are some of the famous Holi events in Varanasi:

  1. Holi on the Ghats: Holi celebrations on the ghats of Varanasi are a sight to behold. The iconic steps leading to the Ganges become a canvas of colors as people play Holi, sing songs, and dance to the beats of music. The festivities create a mesmerizing atmosphere as the colors merge with the river’s reflections, offering a truly breathtaking experience.
  2. Shri Krishna Janmotsav: The birth anniversary of Lord Krishna, known as Shri Krishna Janmotsav, is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Varanasi during Holi. Elaborate processions carrying the idol of Lord Krishna are taken out through the city, accompanied by music, dance, and chants. This event attracts thousands of devotees who come to witness and take part in the grandeur of the celebrations.
  3. Lathmar Holi in Barsana and Nandgaon: Although not directly in Varanasi, the nearby towns of Barsana and Nandgaon host the vibrant Lathmar Holi festivities. In this unique tradition, women playfully beat men with sticks (lathis), while men try to protect themselves with shields. The joyful banter between the participants showcases the eternal love between Lord Krishna and Radha and has become a major attraction for tourists during Holi.
  4. Rangbhari Ekadashi: Rangbhari Ekadashi, held on the eleventh day of the lunar month, marks the official commencement of the Holi celebrations in Varanasi. It is believed that on this day, the deities in the temples are adorned with colorful clothes and lush garlands as part of the preparations for Holi. Devotees visit various temples, offer prayers, and witness the unique and elaborate decorations.
  5. Bhaang Parties: Bhaang is a traditional drink made from cannabis leaves and is an inseparable part of Holi festivities in Varanasi. Several establishments in the city host Bhaang parties, offering revelers an opportunity to indulge in this special beverage in a safe and controlled environment. These parties are filled with music, dancing, and a joyous ambience, making them memorable experiences for those seeking a unique Holi celebration.
  6. Basantotsav at BHU: The Mahila Mahavidyalaya of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) organizes Basantotsav, a cultural extravaganza, to celebrate Holi. This event showcases various classical and folk performances, including music, dance, and poetry recitations. It provides a platform for talented artists to showcase their skills and offers audiences an enriching cultural experience during the festival.

These famous Holi events in Varanasi add an extra layer of excitement and grandeur to the festival. They provide unique opportunities to immerse oneself in the colors, culture, and traditions of Holi, making the celebrations in Varanasi truly memorable and unforgettable.


Tips for Tourists Visiting Varanasi during Holi

For tourists visiting Varanasi during Holi, experiencing the vibrant festivities and cultural traditions can be an exciting and memorable experience. To make the most of your visit and ensure a safe and enjoyable time, here are some useful tips to keep in mind:

  1. Dress Appropriately: Wear clothes that cover most of your body to minimize direct contact with colors. Choose old or dark-colored clothes that you don’t mind getting stained during the celebrations. It’s also advisable to wear closed-toe shoes to protect your feet.
  2. Protect Your Valuables: While enjoying the festivities, be cautious of your personal belongings. Carry a secure bag or backpack and keep valuables like phones, wallets, and passports in a safe and secure place. Avoid flashing expensive jewelry or electronics that might attract unnecessary attention.
  3. Book Accommodations in Advance: Varanasi attracts a significant influx of tourists during Holi. To ensure a comfortable stay, it is recommended to book your accommodations well in advance to secure the best options and avoid last-minute hassles.
  4. Follow Local Customs and Etiquette: Respect the local customs and traditions while participating in the Holi celebrations. Seek permission before applying colors to someone and respect personal boundaries. It’s also important to be mindful of the cultural sensitivities and avoid any disrespectful or inappropriate behavior.
  5. Stay Hydrated and Eat with Caution: Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated during the celebrations, as Holi can be energetic and tiring. While indulging in the delicious Holi delicacies, ensure they are from clean and hygienic sources. Exercise caution and eat from trusted vendors to avoid any stomach discomfort.
  6. Protect Your Skin and Eyes: Apply a layer of oil on your skin and moisturize well before participating in the festivities. The oil acts as a barrier and makes it easier to remove the colors later. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses or using protective eyewear to prevent any irritation or discomfort caused by colors.
  7. Be Cautious of Water Quality: If you plan to play with colored water, ensure that the water is clean and free from any contaminants. Use clean and filtered water to minimize any health risks. It’s also advisable to carry a small bottle of clean water for emergencies or washing off colors.
  8. Respect the Environment: Opt for organic colors made from natural substances to minimize harm to the environment and your health. Avoid using permanent dyes, chemical-based colors, or products that can cause harm to the surroundings or pollute the waterbodies.
  9. Enjoy the Holika Dahan Ceremony: Witness the Holika Dahan ritual, where a bonfire is lit to symbolize the victory of good over evil. Immerse yourself in the spiritual ambiance and participate respectfully in the rituals and prayers.
  10. Capture Memories Respectfully: Photography is a great way to capture the vibrant colors and joyful moments of Holi. However, always ask for permission before taking someone’s photograph, especially locals, and respect their privacy. Some may prefer not to be photographed during the celebrations.

By following these tips, you can have a safe, memorable, and culturally enriching experience during Holi in Varanasi. Embrace the festive spirit, cherish the traditions, and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of this joyous celebration.



Holi in Varanasi is a celebration like no other. It combines ancient traditions, vibrant colors, and a deep sense of spirituality, creating an immersive and unforgettable experience. The festival holds immense significance in this holy city, drawing people from all over the world to participate in the joyous revelries.


From the history and mythology of Holi to the preparation and rituals, Varanasi offers a complete package for Holi enthusiasts. The city’s rich cultural heritage, spiritual aura, and picturesque ghats provide the perfect backdrop for a memorable celebration. Whether you choose to play Holi on the bustling streets, join the grand processions, or witness the unique customs, Varanasi has something for everyone.


However, while enjoying the festivities, it’s crucial to prioritize safety and respect for the local customs. Following the recommended safety measures, being mindful of personal boundaries, and using organic colors are essential for a harmonious and enjoyable celebration. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to indulge in traditional Holi foods, experience famous events, and immerse yourself in the infectious energy that fills the air.


Holi in Varanasi is more than just a festival. It’s an experience that connects people, transcends boundaries, and spreads joy and love. It’s a time to celebrate the arrival of spring, embrace new beginnings, and foster camaraderie. The colors of Holi symbolize the vibrancy of life and remind us to appreciate its beauty in all its hues.


So, whether you’re a curious traveler seeking cultural immersion or a local looking to celebrate Holi in your hometown, Varanasi promises an enchanting and unforgettable experience. Embrace the colors, dance to the rhythms, savor the delicious treats, and relish the magic of Holi in this mystical city. Let the spirit of Holi in Varanasi leave a lasting impression on your heart and ignite a renewed zest for life.