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Updated: Dec 10, 2019

A Complete Guide for Photographers celebrating the Festival of Colours in India!

Crazy, colourful, and simply unforgettable - The Festival of Colors in Uttar Pradesh.

Discover the secrets behind the seven-day Holi celebration, held in one of the most remote places in India!

With this guide, you will be able to create magnificent shots and see more than everyone else ever could.

What To Expect in This Guide:

- Background Information About The Reason Behind Holi

- All Dates And Places

- Top Insights

- Useful Tips

1. The Legend

To understand why the Holi celebration in UP is so unique, I have to travel back a few millennia to the time when the Holi first started: The "Holi" Festival is now famous all over the world. However, its origins stem from two different tales out of Hindu-mythology.

- The first tale explains the tradition of colouring each other playfully with powder (gulal), paint, and petals.

- The second tale explains the word "Holi".

Throwing colourful powder at others originates from the legend of Lord Krishna" and his beloved "Radha" - It talks about love and the fear of losing it.

The Hindu God ‘Krishna’ (from Nandgaon) fell in love with a young woman, Radha (from Barsana). Krishna had much darker skin than Radha, but this did not hinder their love for each other first.

However, people started making fun of Krishna’s skin colour. Driven by a fear that Radha would leave him, Krishna went to his wise mother to find a solution. She suggested him to colour everyone playfully so as to hide their real skin-complexion - when everyone is colorful, there are no more differences between the people - no one can exclude or mock the other anymore because of his/her skin colour.

And so it happened that over the years, Krishna would travel every spring from his village to Radha’s and colour Radha, her friends and all the village people with gulal (colour powder), so says the legend.

As the tradition evolved, men from Nandgaon still travel to Barsana to drench the women in colour, who in turn playfully beat them with bamboo sticks, thus also called "Lathmar Holi".

The second tale explains the origin of the word "Holi", which can be translated as the expression "to burn".

Once upon a time, the mean and jealous demon god "Hiranyakashyap" wanted to kill his own son "Prahlad," as he turned to another god. Hiranyakashyap ordered his sister "Holika" to step into a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap because she had the gift of resisting fire. But, as Holika went into the fire, she burned in place of Prahlad, her powers no longer worked, and she paid the price for her sinister collusion. Prahlad himself was saved by the grace of his God for his extreme devotion.

Holi is not merely a celebration to honour the Gods; it marks equality and justice. It conveys that ‘every colour is beautiful’ and that good will always win over evil.

According to history, these legends happened in the small and ancient towns of Barsana, Nandgoan and Vrindavan - in the region of Mathura - Uttar Pradesh.

For this reason, the inhabitants of this region have been celebrating their Holi festival unchanged for thousands of years. However, compared to the rest of India, they do it in very unique and different ways.

In the following section, I give you an overview of the most beautiful must-see places during the Holi celebrations. I will explain what they are all about, when they take place, and what their background is.

2. Overview & Dates


"Laddu Mar Holi" is celebrated one day before Lath Mar (Lathmar) Holi at „Sri Ji-Temple“ one of the main temples in Barsana.

Devotees gathering in temples will dance, sing and throw laddus and colored powder (Gulal) at each other. A Laddu is a traditional Indian dessert in spherical form. They can be made from various ingredients, such as butter-roasted chickpea flour, sesame seeds, almonds, pine nuts, and spices. Laddus are basically used as Prasad (food offerings for the gods).

What: Pre-Holi - Laddu-Holi

When: Early afternoon

Where: Shri Ji Mandir, Barsana, Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh, India

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura, from Mathura by taxi, bike or local transportation to reach Barsana.

Top tip for Photographers:

You can take very nice photos from the temple roof onto the open terrace of the Shri-Ji Temple. The floor of the terrace has a chessboard pattern that is quite unique for a Hindi temple. This offers an interesting contrast to the colourful costumes of the celebrants!


The Holi celebration starts early in the morning in the temple, singing, dancing, and of course throwing colourful paint powder and flowers.

In the afternoon, the main part of the celebration takes place in the medieval streets of the city. The Lathmar-Holi is a very special kind of Holi celebration which is related to the legend of Lord Krishna and his Radha . The legends say that Krishna threw colour at the inhabitants of the village. Particularly the female friends of his beloved Radha did not accept this without resistance at first!

According to the story, Radha's friends were shepherdesses, and they gave Krishna a proper rubdown with their Lathis, which are basically bamboo sticks used to herd sheep back in the days.

And so, the celebration in Barsana takes up this legend in a slightly modified form:

Men from the neighbouring village of Nandgaon head to Barsana, their intention is to take over the temple of Shri Radhikaji (Radhas Temple), and the women of Barsana oppose it with their bamboo sticks.

The men cannot strike back. All they can do is throw colours at the women. The men who are separated by the women's group first get a proper rubdown with the bamboo sticks and are then forced to dress in women's clothes, apply cosmetics and dance like ladies in front of everyone else.

What: Lathmaar (or Latth Maar/Lathmar) - Holi (Part 1)

When: Around 8AM: Celebration at the „Shri Radha Rani Mandir“

Around 3PM: Lathmaar Holi at the Streets of Barsana (Main Street)

Where: Shri Radha Rani Mandir, Barsana & Main Street Barsana, Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh, India

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura, from Mathura by taxi, bike or local transportation to Barsana.

Top tip for photographers:

Leave the temple at noon to get the perfect viewpoint on one of the old sandstone houses! Here, you can photograph the Lathmar-Holi from a safe distance. One of the best places is on the rooftops of the old sandstone-houses next to the small Hindu temple. This is located on the main road in the middle between the village entrance and the Shri Radha Rani temple.


The Holi-celebration in Nandgoan is very similar to that one in Barsana. Also here, Lathmar-Holi is played in the medieval streets of the city.

Here, there are also dancing, and celebrations in the main temple (Nand-Bahavan) before the lathmar-holi starts in the afternoon.

The Nand-Bahavan temple is probably the most famous place to celebrate the Holi festival. Many of the well-known and internationally published Holi pictures were taken in this temple.

What: Lathmar Holi (Part2)

When: Around 12AM Inside the „Nand Bhanvan“ of Nandgaon,

Afternoon: Lathmar Holi at the medieval streets of the Nandgaon.

Where: Nand Bhanvan Mandir, Nandgoan & on the medieval streets of Nandgaon, Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh, India

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura, from Mathura by taxi, bike or local transportation to Nandgaon.

Top tip for photographers:

The spectacle in the temple is something very special. However, to get really unique pictures, it is worth leaving the temple every now to search for motives in the medieval streets. There, you can meet and photograph fortune tellers, snake charmers, dancers, acrobats, fire-eaters, falconers, sadhus, astrologers and many other exciting inhabitants of India.

March 6 & 9th. Phoolon (flowers) Wali & Rangbharni Ekadashi - HOLI AT "BANKEY BIHARI" TEMPLE

The Tale of Lord Krishna is also celebrated in two different ways at BANKEY BIHARI“ temple.

6th of March: Phoolon (flowers) Wali Holi):

The special thing about the ((Phoolon (flowers) Wali Holi) Holi celebrations are the tons of colourful petals that are used instead of the color powder (gulal).

The flowers are brought to the balconies of the temple and will then rain down on the devotees for about 20-30 minutes.

Everything smells like roses, and the ground floor of the temple is covered under a centimetre thick layer of flowers.

9th of March: Rangbharni Ekadashi:

When you visit the Banke-Bihari Temple, you will be met with a huge array of colours. Here, the Temple Priests, also known as Goswamis, pour out tons of different colours all over their devotees. With bhajans or devotional music being played in the background, everybody inside of the temple is covered using a mixture of both dry and wet colours. Everybody can be seen dancing in unison with one another, regardless of the creed, religion, colour or caste.

Another peculiarity is that the idol of Bihariji (Krishna's other name) of this temple is dressed in white clothes and carried in a procession through the city to play with his devotees „Holi".

What: Phoolon Wali HOLI & Rangbharni Ekadashi HOLI


Phoolon Wali - In the morning, most likely between 10 AM and 11AM (at the 6th of March).

Rangbharni Ekadashi - Morning till midday (at the 9th of march).

Where: Shri Bankey Bihari Mandir, Vrindavan, Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh, India

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura, from Mathura by taxi, bike or local transportation. You will need to walk the last 1 or 2 kilometres through the old town of Vrindavan to reach the temple.

Top tip for photographers:

Phoolon Wali - The best way you can experience this Holi from behind the lens of your camera is to make sure you arrive the very moment the temple gates are open. This will give you adequate time to take the perfect photo of the flowers while they are in mid-air. If you are prepared to part with a fee of around 500RS (for foreigners), you may also be allowed to take photos from up on the temple balconies.

March 7th or 10th (dates will be updated). Lord Krishna’s Leela - Gulal-Kund, Braj in Vrindavan.

At Braj in Vrindavan during Holi, you will be able to view Lord Krishna’s Leela.

If you enjoy going to watch skits and plays, then going to Vrindavan to celebrate Holi id probably going to be ideal for you! Here, the locals will play-out and reenact stories from Hindu Mythology that depict Lord Krishna himself enjoy the array of colours.

Close to Govardham Hill, around a little lake, you will find a most enjoyable theatrical performance that can be viewed by anyone for free.

What: Lord Krishna’s Leela (a type of stage play about the legend of Lord Krishna)

When: Whole day

Where: Gulal Kundh, Braj, Vrindavan, Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh, India

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura, from Mathura by taxi, bike or local transportation. You will need to walk the last 1 or 2 kilometres through the old town of Vrindavan to reach the place.


The Holi festival at the PagalBabaAshram is something very special because here the widows from all over India celebrate the Festival Of Colours together.

In the past, it was frowned upon in India that widows took part in the celebrations. Even still now, it is only very recently that widows have been able to celebrate in the Pagal-Baba, but since then the temple has received increasing growth in celebratory widows.

The Holi-Fest is celebrated here a little more quietly, and contemplatively than in the other temples, one respects each other, and there is not such chaos and dense crowds as with everywhere else.

The Pagal Temple is surrounded by its own magic, and you can feel the positive atmosphere in the air everywhere.

If you want to visit the Pagal Baba Temple for „Holi“, then you need to have time on your side. This is because the small alleys leading to it are full of celebratory occasions that move from one to the other of the numerous temples that surround the Pagal Baba Ashram. The celebrations are dense, and you want to make sure you have the time to enjoy all of the amazing photo opportunities this occasion presents.

What: Widow Holi

When: In the morning, around 9 to 12 AM

Where: Pagal Baba Mandir, also called Gopinath Temple, Vrindavan, Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh, India.

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura, from Mathura by taxi, bike or local transportation. You will need to walk the last 1 or 2 kilometres through the old town of Vrindavan to reach the temple.

Top tip for photographers:

Don’t limit yourself by only taking your pictures in the Tempel-Courtyard. Make sure you take some from the balconies as well! Wide-angle pictures from high-above the celebrating masses are recommended, particularly while petals are being thrown down from the balconies. The devotees then look up and perform ceremonial gestures, which leads to really interesting photo motifs. The temple roof is open, and you have enough light to take pictures without a flash.


Street Procession:

Beginning at Vishram Ghat, the Holi procession makes its way over to the Holi Gate. On the streets that join these two landmarks together is where you will find the greatest of the celebrations.

Usually, there can be anything up to 10 different types of vehicles that are adorned in colourful flowers. Some of which will even have children who are dancing on the open truck decks which are dressed up as Radha Krishna. Everyone joins in with each other, and it is a glorious sight!

Holika Dahan:

Holika-Dahan is also dedicated to a story out of Indian mythology. As mentioned earlier, the term "Holi" comes from the legend of the evil demon god Hiranyakashyap, his sister Holika, and his son Prahlad. The decorated straw dolls symbolize the evil Holika. The legend is remembered by burning them. Symbolically, good triumphs over evil.

What: Holi-Street-Processions / Holika Dahan

When Early Afternoon till late night.

Where: Holi Procession starts at Vishram Ghat of Vrindavan/Mathura. Holika Dahan takes place in several streets along the Ghats of Vrindavan, Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh, India.

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura. You will need to walk the last kilometres to reach the Ghats.

Top tip for photographers:

If you enjoy photographing colourful portraits, then this is the perfect place for you. During the procession, you will have the opportunity to photograph many beautiful portraits of dressed up celebrants. Children and adults dress up as Radha or Krishna and wear the corresponding outfits, and sometimes very elaborate makeup.


The greatest festival of all takes place in Mathura at the Dwarkadheesh Temple. From 7am, you will be able to go to Vishram Ghat to watch how they start the process of Bhang making which is done by the priests.

The gates of the Temple will then open from 10 am, and the festivities will begin. Before the gates are opened, you will observe the crowds gathering, already starting to splash themselves in colour! Joyfully singing along to a range of traditional Holi songs, beating their drums, and enjoy the traditional sweet treat of Holi, the gujiya.

Although the scale of the Holi here is a little smaller than the Banke-Bihari temple, for instance, the ambience is far more personal and friendlier for visitors. Here, the Priests can be found playing hols, and you will be able to join in with the dancing crowds within the complex of the temple if you so wish. Inside the temple, there are usually large numbers of women who can be found playing around with the Holi colours.

What: Main Holi

When: Morning till afternoon

Where: Dwarkadhish Mandir, Mathura district, Uttar Pradesh, India

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura, take local transportation or taxi to the temple

Top tip for photographers:

Documentary photographers who enjoy photographing the authentic and colourful life of India are in the perfect place when they are here. The atmosphere is a little less heated than on the other Holi-Festival days, and you will have the opportunity to interact with the locals and talk to them in-person.


The tradition dates back more than 500 years when the Krishna temple was established. Huranga Holi is a game where women from the family which established the temple, playfully tear off the men's shirts and beat them up in the temple courtyard. Men retaliate drenching women with buckets of liquid orange colours. After some hours, the temple floor resembles an orange lake.

What: Post-Holi - Huranga Festival

When: Around midday

Where: Dauji Mandir, Baldeo, Uttar Pradesh, India

How to reach: From Delhi by train or car to Mathura, hire a driver to reach Baldeo which is around 30kilometers far from Mathura.

Top tip for photographers:

Make sure that you protect your camera with a splash guard! The Huranga Festival is wet and brutal. There's angling in the temple, the atmosphere is heated up, and buckets of paint are poured over the celebrants. Those who survive this will be rewarded with unique and dynamic photos.

3. Perfectly prepared:

Both you and your equipment will face special challenges during the Holi Festival. Paint, dust, water, and dense crowds. Here are the most useful tips to fully prepare you, and get through your Holi adventure undamaged.

That's how you protect yourself:

Protect yourself with a rain cape. Especially in Nandaon and Barsana, where dye is used that cannot be washed out of clothes. If the colour comes into contact with the skin or the hair, it also takes several days until it is completely washed out again. Personally, I use a swimming hood and a scarf to protect my hair from the colour; I would recommend this to all with long and/or light hair.

Use a face mask in the temples. Inhaling the paint dust is not only extremely unpleasant, but it can also cause allergies and breathing difficulties in sensitive people.

That's how you protect your equipment:

Splashproof cover for lens and camera: (link will be added)

Also, use some tape to mask smaller openings on the camera to protect it from the fine colour particles in the air.

If you haven't already insured your equipment, I would recommend it, especially for the Holi festival! The danger that something will break due to paint, water or just the bumping into the temple is relatively high. Also, the theft problem should not be ignored in the dense crowd.

Be sure to have your camera cleaned when the Holi Festival is over. This can be done directly in Delhi quickly and inexpensively.

I personally recommend the following store because I have already had very good experiences there. They offer fast service, reasonable prices, and a Chai while you wait for your equipment to be ready.

Omax Camera care

Adresse: Shop no.53 ground Flr. Ansal Classic Tower., Rajouri Garden, New Delhi, Delhi 110027, Indien


4. Experience Holi with like-minded people - Guided Photo-Expedition Holi 2020:

Now you've really got to understand the ins and outs of Holi, but don't dare to master the spectacle on your own, or perhaps you just prefer to travel with like-minded people? No problem - I offer an organized photo trip to the Holi-Festival 2020. We travel in a small group with a maximum of 6 participants.

Take a look at my travel pdf for more information:

Download the Travel-Itinerary here

- Written by Runa Lindberg

About the Author:

Runa Lindberg has been travelling through India for 11 years and lived there for over a year.

Her heart beats for Indian culture and mythology.

Runa is specialized in portrait -, and street photography.

She provides photo tuition for the beginner and advanced-level photography, and organizes photo trips to her favourite country India, for small groups of adventurous amateur photographers.

Learn more about Runa



Bhang: An edible mixture made from the buds, leaves, and flowers of the female cannabis or marijuana, plant - which is used among other things in Hindu religious rituals.

Bankey Bihari: Is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, in the holy city of Vrindavan.

Barsana: Medieval town at Mathura district in the State of Uttar Pradesh, India.


Gulal: The traditional name given to the coloured powders used for the typical Hindu rituals.


Hiranyakashyap: The first demon child of Maharshi Kashyap and Diti - A historical person out of Hindu Mythology.

Holika: Demon Goddess.

Holika Dahan: Also known as Kamudu pyre, is celebrated by burning Holika, an asura.

Huranga Festival: Ceremonial Hindu Festival where saffron-coloured water is poured over the devotees.


Krishna: Hindu half-god. Often the flute is depicted playfully orbited by young women.

Kund also referred to as Kundh or Kundi: Pond.


Laddu: Traditional Sweet.

Lathi: Long Bamboo-Stick.

Lathmar: A special kind of Holi celebration, based on the legend of Lord Krishna and Radha.

Leela: A drama or play.


Mandir: Temple.

Mathura: Historical City in Uttar Pradesh.

Nand Bhanvan Mandir: A 500-year-old main temple in the medieval village Nandgoan, within the district Mathura of the state of Uttar Pradesh in North India.


Phoolon Wali: A special way to celebrate the Holi festival. Instead of bright colours, petals are thrown into the crowd.

Prasad: Traditional food-offering

Pagal Baba Ashram: Translated, the name means "Temple of the Crazy Father" and is dedicated to its founder, an Old Brahmin and Lord Krishna. This is the only place where Indian widows can celebrate Holi.

Prahlad: Historical figure from the legend of Hiranyakashyap.


Radha: Radha: Human lover of the half-god Krishna.

Rangbharni Ekadashi: Special kind of Holi celebration.


Shri Ji Mandir: Also called the Shri Radha Rani Temple. Medieval temple of the place Barsana, that is dedicated to Radha.

Shri Radha Rani Mandir: Siehe „Shri Ji Mandir“


Vrinavan: Medieval town located on the Yamuna River, also known as "Little Varanasi".

Vishram Ghat: Ceremonial site on the banks of the river Yamuna in Vrindavan.


Book: Braj Ki Holi : The Divine Colors Of Lord Krishna











Hello Travel- & Nature-Photography Lovers!

My name is Runa,

I am a German based Travel-Photographer.

On this website I do not only share my artwork, I also share photography tips and tricks with you. Are you looking for personal guidance to bring your photography skills to the next level? Join one of my workshops or come with on a photographic tour.

You will laugh, learn, and see life through your lens from a completely new perspective. 

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