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Holi Hai! – It’s Holi! The Festival of Color

Posted on March 6, 2020 at 5:00 PM by Madhu Gadia

March 6, 2020 
Holi Hai! – It’s Holi! The Festival of Color 


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Growing up in India, Holi was one of my favorite festivals. I grew up in a university town in Pantnagar, Uttarakhand. In Pantnagar, Holi was all about families, as university students were home for the holidays. In my family, it was celebrated with exuberance and joy. My parents loved Holi and everything that went with it.

Preparing for Holi

Holi was super fun, colorful, and lively. The festivities started almost 2 weeks in advance. There was such a happy energy in the house and in the city. The shops were lined with heaps of colorful, vibrant gulal and abeer (Holi colors, dry and wet). Mom would start making Holi desserts and snacks for all the friends that would come to play Holi. In those days, all the families I knew made homemade treats for Holi. The must-have dessert was gujia, a pastry filled with nuts and khoa (condensed dried milk). I recently asked my mom about the ordeal of making over 100 gujias (stuffed pastry) every Holi, and nostalgically, she said it was part of the fun as she and dad would make the gujias together. She would roll the dough and he would stuff them; then they would fry them. There were other snacks and desserts but nothing as memorable.

Playing Holi 

Holi is a two-day festival. The first day is called Holi Dahan, the burning of Holika. It’s celebrated with a neighborhood bonfire – signifying good over evil, based on the Holi legend.
The second day, you celebrate and “play Holi”. In our house, Holi was all about the second day. The Holi (play part) started around 11 am. Everyone would be dressed in white or light-colored clothes. In Pantnagar, the day had a rhythm. First, a couple of men would start at one end of the neighborhood, playing Holi, putting color on each other, and wishing Happy Holi (Holi Mubarak ho) and growing in numbers, as they moved from through the neighborhood.
The kids had their own groups, most of the time the girls played with girls, and boys played with boys – most of the time. As kids, teenagers, and young adults, it started with a little color on the cheek, then watercolors, and next thing you know we were literally soaked with color and if we ran out of watercolors we would just throw water on each other. We would run around, trying to catch each other and put gulal on faces; soon we would be multicolored, soaked, and laughing. It was all fun and games, it got a little rough sometimes but no one got hurt.  
Moms had their own group and for those few hours, they were like little girls, giggling and coloring each other playfully. My most favorite part was, in our house, when we came home, the whole family would play together and mom and dad also played Holi with each other.

Then we showered, ate left-over puri, aalu (see recipes below), and took a nap. We were exhausted.


Wait, wait, it’s not over yet. Around 4 pm, the dance troops would come, one by one. They were so much fun. These were the farm and domestic workers. They dressed up as dancers, some would dress as women and they entertained us with very particular Holi dances. They would sing and dance until you gave them money. They were a jolly bunch, full of energy and excitement as most of them had some bhang (a drink with marijuana).
This was how we celebrated Holi in Pantnagar. Every home and city have their own traditions. I know in some cities, it can get ugly as playing turns to violence.

Holi in my New Home 

In the USA, my Holi is much more subdued. But at least we do something. My friend Amita often hosts the Holi party and together we bring Holi colors and celebrations to our lives in America. For the last few years, we’ve been going to the local temple where we participate in the bonfire and then play Holi. All good.

A Holi phrase - “Holi hai, Bhai Holi Hai, Rang Birangi Holi Hai” – means, “It’s  Holi, don’t be upset if I color you, be joyful.”


For Holi, we would always make Puri (Fried Bread) and curried potatoes, as this combo turns any meal into a celebration. Plus, they make great leftovers. Mom would make them on the first day of Holi (Holi Dahan) and on the second day, we would enjoy them as leftovers so mom would also be free to enjoy and play Holi, just like us. And of course for dessert, gujjia, khoa and nuts stuffed pastry, was a must. See recipes below:

Puri (Fried Bread) 

Puri (fried bread) makes any meal a celebration. Everyone, young or old, enjoy puris. Although you can make them alone, they are easier to make with two people; one fries and the other rolls....

Curried Potatoes 
Children and adults alike will devour this dish, which is one of the most popular ways to prepare potatoes in India. These can be served either hot or cold with any meal. They are great for traveling and picnics too.


Happy and Healthy Cooking!


P.S. For more Holi pictures, please see my Facebook Page. Also, please take the time to LIKE the FB page. 

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Tagged As: Holi

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