Photos: Indian Women Celebrate Holi, the World’s Most Colorful Holiday

Fending off sexual harassment and segregation, the women in these photos still managed to take part in the raucously beautiful celebration this year.

KM Asad/ZUMA


In March every year, the streets of India and Nepal come alive with color. Kids douse each other with water guns full of paint; ashrams explode with clouds of rainbow powder; friends lob water balloons bursting with chartreuse, ochre, fuchia, and violet. All to celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival marking the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil.

Girls dance at the Pagal Baba Ashram in Vrindivan, Uttar Pradesh Deepack Malik/ZUMA

Holi in the Borobazar area of Calcutta KM Asad/ZUMA

But peaceful Holi revelry can be harder to come by for some Indian women. The wild celebrations often encourage sexual harassment; “it’s almost like one gigantic frat party,” says radio producer Deepak Singh, of KOSU. Some men see it as an opportunity to “get drunk and rowdy and grope women,” he says. When I lived with a family in Jaipur, Rajasthan, we were warned away from joining the street mob during the Holi festival for fear of this type of behavior.

A girl at Pagal Baba Ashram in Vrindivan, Uttar Pradesh Deepak Malik/ZUMA

Three friends smear each other with powder in the Borobazar area of Calcutta KM Asad/ZUMA

And tens of millions of widows in India find Holi completely off-limits, as NPR’s Julie McCarthy reports. “In some parts of the culture, the women are seen as the cause of their husband’s death,” she writes, and they are discouraged from partaking in the festivities. Still, many widows buck tradition and party anyway. This year, McCarthy observed a gleeful group of widows “cavorting in the chaos of color” during a Holi party in Vrindavan, known as the City of Widows.

Widows dance during a March 3, 2015 Holi party at Meerasahabhagini Ashram in Vrindivan KM Asad/ZUMA

A widow doused in colored powder celebrates Holi at Meerasahabhagini Ashram  KM Asad/ZUMA