Holi Festival: What to expect from colourful Goa

When traveling there are some things that just elevate the experience. They move and delight you, change you as a person almost, especially in a very spiritual place like India. I love a good party and a festival even more so. All that happiness and positive energy can’t fail to get you in a jubilant mood.

When we booked our trip to India and realised that we would be there during Holi, the Hindu Festival, I felt butterflies of excitement. Holi is an annual celebration of Spring, rebirth, new life and a chance for people to come together as a community regardless of faith, nationality or beliefs. This really appealed to me, as I love any chance to enjoy nature and always celebrate the Solstices at home.
You’d need to have been living under a rock to not have noticed the popular increase in Colour Festivals all over the world. From colour runs to nightclubs hosting their own colour parties, people love the chance to throw paint over one another and celebrate in a multi-coloured cloud of dust.

Arriving in Goa our first mission was to find a place to celebrate Holi Festival with the local people but we struggled to find any one source of reliable information about it. This is partly because Holi Festival is more widely celebrated in the North of India and because it usually coincides with the rise of the full moon, so it changes every year.

Holi starts the evening that the moon grows and glows to achieve its fullest potential for the month, but often people start celebrating even earlier. In the days leading up to Holi, locals were in a triumphant mood, drinking, singing and dancing in the waves with their friends. Eager to involve travellers, they chatted happily and put their arms around us to pose for pictures to remember the occasion.
There are many elements to Holi, with dance, music and arts playing a part and when we arrived we found that there had been a week-long Festival two weeks earlier with street parties and public events. There were also a few party promoters cottoning on to the popularity and running events for young party goers in trendy resorts, in both Palolem in the south and Anjuna in the north of Goa.

However, the colour element of the festival, which Holi is most well-known for, actually takes place the day after the full moon and is usually celebrated in the villages or communities with family and friends, young and old. There is an air of playful mischief that laces the air and you sense that behind every corner a cheeky, prankster may be hidden waiting to unleash their colourful stash.
We awoke eagerly expecting there to be an organised event in the town but in Goa at least there wasn’t but instead steadily from early morning and throughout the day people congregate on the beaches, in the towns and outside temples. They wait for a chance to decorate passers-by with a range of colourful paints that each carry a different meaning.
As we made our way down to the town we were immediately stopped by a child asking if she could decorate our arms and faces with red paint, which means purity. On the streets there was evidence of early morning revelry, with rainbows splashed across the pavements and men covered head to foot in reds, blues, greens and yellows, energetically chatting and laughing.
We wanted to get a real sense of Holi Festival and so we headed into Old Goa, which is the ancient part of the state and the remains of which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Passing through the villages on the way to town was the most fascinating way to see people celebrating Holi, with small communities gathered to paint each other and celebrate.
Designed and occupied by the Portuguese until the 16th century, Old Goa is home to many churches and is designed on an attractive grid system, making it feel distinctly European in comparison to the rest of Goa. Down the pristine pavements, alongside perfectly preened lawns and flower beds, quaint white churches peeped out from behind trees.
We wandered between the various buildings seeking solace from the raging, humid heat of the middle of the day. We sheltered in the cool walls of churches, lighting a candle to show our respect and having great difficulty getting it to stand up on its own.
A little further out of town we made our way up a set of stairs towards a striking white coloured church on a hill, which unfortunately was closed but offered a stunning view out of Goa. The sun glistened off the river and buildings below and I enjoyed the breeze that swept under my dress and past my ankles, offering some cool relief.
In between the sights, crowds gathered and sellers pedalled their wares, including the brightly coloured Holi powders. Occasionally you could see a puff of rainbow coloured smoke billowing up above a group and people going about their day with a smile and stained clothing.
We made our way to my favourite of the UNESCO sites, the Church of Saint Augustine, which is now in ruins. We trundled up the hill, flagging in the stifling heat but spurred on by the merest wisp of wind wafting through our hair.
Walking among the heavy stone that meandered in crooked paths of the once grand and proud church, I was reminded of the Lindisfarne Priory that I visited and immediately loved. I’m a romantic when it comes to ruins!
After a while, we were baked and decided to make our way back to the cool shores. Families of three or four, streaked in colours, rode tiny mopeds that looked like they’d topple perilously any moment.
As we reached the beach small groups of young people were gathered enjoying the special day and families painted a typical seaside scene with buckets, spades and ice creams. Toddlers played at mum’s feet, with pink stripes across their chubby cheeks and produced shrieks of joy as they doused dad in paint and ran towards the sea.

As we settled down to people watch, feet buried in the cool sand, a merry band of women and their children approached dancing and singing songs. A little boy ran over with a super soaker and purple paint, denoting wealth and prosperity, eager to adorn inquisitive onlookers. Unfortunately they then used that to intimidate tourists to hand over money, which left a sour taste on what should be a day of community and celebration, but not surprising given India is still a poor country.
As the sun started to set and the cheers, singing and playful splashes quietened down I reflected on the day and what I had learned of Holi. Beyond the pretty colours that make fantastic pictures, it has spiritual roots but with a playful touch that has the power to unite people. Noone escapes the mischief of Holi, not even the animals. 


The most enjoyable element for me was observing families within the tiny villages coming together, playing and laughing, shrouded in rainbow coloured clouds.

Have you been to a colour festival or celebrated Holi before? What are your favourite kinds of festivals?

If you want to read about what else I got up to in India you can read about it here and here. Stay tuned for more soon.

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