When thick neon clouds hover above the Indian subcontinent each March, you can be sure that the 1.24 billion people lost in the Technicolor haze below are having a great time. These rainbow clouds, after all, herald the beginning of spring and have become the iconic symbol of India’s annual Holi celebration.
Holi officially kicked off on Monday, though India’s flamboyant festival has an early showing each year in two small villages in Uttar Pradesh where tinted powder flies through the air for Lathmar Holi.
The colorful celebration has its roots in Hindu mythology. It’s said that darker-skinned Krishna was jealous of fair-skinned Radha and pestered his foster mother Yashoda about it so much that she told him he could change Radha's skin by dousing her in colors. Thus, each spring Holi revelers hurl neon powder [known as gulal] and colored water into the air, tie-dying participants into spirographs of color. The vibrant hues are said to represent energy, life, joy and the coming of the new season.
Celebrants light huge bonfires to ward off evil spirits and commemorate the victory of good over evil on the eve of Holi. On the day of the main event, men typically wear white kurtas, while women don white saris or shalwar kameez. Of course, these clothes don't stay white for long. Children have free range to smear gulal on friends and neighbors while adults toss dyed water in a riot of color. The result looks something like this:
Hindu priests throw colored powder at the devotees during Holi celebrations at Bankey Bihari temple in Vrindavan, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 13, 2014. Reuters
Men with their faces painted in silver pose as they celebrate Holi in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati, March 17, 2014. Reuters
A girl sits on her father's shoulders and cheers as she and others daubed in colors dance while celebrating Holi in the northeastern Indian city of Guwahati, March 17, 2014. Reuters
Hindu devotees walk around a bonfire during a ritual known as "Holika Dahan" as part of Holi celebrations in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, March 16, 2014. Holika Dahan signifies the burning of the demoness Holika and symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Reuters
Students extend their hands to receive colored powder from their teacher during Holi celebrations at a school in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad, March 15, 2014. Reuters
A boy sits in a plastic container filled with colored water during Holi celebrations in the southern Indian city of Chennai, March 16, 2014. Reuters
A widow throws flowers into the air during Holi celebrations organized by non-governmental organization Sulabh International at a widows' ashram in Vrindavan in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 14, 2014. Traditionally in Hindu culture, widows are expected to renounce earthly pleasure so they don't celebrate Holi. But women at the shelter for widows, who have been abandoned by their families, celebrated the festival by throwing flowers and colored powder. Reuter
A Hindu devotee reacts as priests (unseen) spray colored water on him during Holi celebrations at the Bankey Bihari temple in Vrindavan, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 13, 2014. Reuters/Anindito Mukherjee
A student of Rabindra Bharati University reacts as her fellow students apply colored powder to her face during celebrations for Holi, also known as the festival of colors in Kolkata, March 12, 2014. Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
A man daubed in colored powder dances at a temple during "Lathmar Holi" at Nandgaon village, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 10, 2014. Reuters/Adnan Abidi
People dance as others spray colored water on them during the "Lathmar Holi" at village Nandgaon, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 10, 2014. Reuters/Adnan Abidi
A group of women beat men holding a shield over their heads during "Lathmar Holi" at the village of Barsana in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 9, 2014. In a Holi tradition unique to Barsana and Nandgaon villages, men sing provocative songs to gain the attention of women, who then "beat" them with bamboo sticks called "lathis." Reuters