Holi is an important spring festival for Hindus, a national holiday in India and Nepal with regional holidays in other countries. Most of the Hindus and some non-Hindus, it is a playful cultural event and an excuse to throw coloured water at friends or strangers in jest.
It is also observed broadly in the Indian subcontinent and is celebrated at the end of winter, on the last full moon day of the Hindu luni-solar calendar month marking the spring, making the date vary with the lunar cycle.
The date falls typically in March, but sometimes late February of the Gregorian calendar. The festival has many purposes; most prominently, it celebrates the beginning of Spring.
In 17th century literature, it was identified as a festival that celebrated agriculture, commemorated good spring harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring's abundant colours and saying farewell to winter.
To many Hindus, Holi festivities mark the beginning of the new year as well as an occasion to reset and renew ruptured relationships, end conflicts and rid themselves of accumulated emotional impurities from the past.
It also has a religious purpose, symbolically signified by the legend of Holika. The night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Little Holi. People gather near fires, sing and dance.
The next day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated.
In northern parts of India, children and youth spray coloured powder solutions (Gulal) at each other, laugh and celebrate, while adults smear dry coloured powder (abir) on each other's faces.
Visitors to homes are first teased with colours, then served with Holi delicacies (such as puranpoli, dahi-bada and gujia), desserts and drinks.
After playing with colours, and cleaning up, people bathe, put on clean clothes, and visit friends and family.
Like Holika Dahan, Kama Dahanam is celebrated in some parts of India. The festival of colours in these parts is called Rangapanchami, and occurs on the fifth day after Poornima (full moon).