February 25, 2020

Holi is a prominent and widely celebrated annual Hindu festival. The spring festival marks the end of winter and is associated with multiple spiritual meanings such as the triumph of love, devotion, and goodness within oneself. The most popular celebration is in honor of Lord Krishna and his consort, Radha, in his birthplace in Mathura District, India. The holiday date varies according to the Hindu calendar. This year the main celebration falls on March 10 with related festivities March 3-11. Holi events are held worldwide by the Indian diaspora, mainly in North America, Southeast Asia, and the UK; other religious communities such as Jains, some sects of Buddhists, and Sikhs also observe Holi.

Holi festival celebrations across India March 10 are set to cause widespread disruptions, especially in Uttar Pradesh and other north Indian states. Narender9 / CC BY-SA (

The main day of the festival of Holi is an official holiday in India and countries with a significant Hindu population such as Guyana, Nepal, and Suriname. Celebrators participate in mass gatherings at religious sites and public squares, with traditional bonfires and color-throwing events. The largest festivities occur in north India.



Security forces are on high alert nationwide due to persistent threats by domestic and international Islamist groups, especially Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM). Authorities typically deploy security personnel to monitor all possible target sites, including religious buildings, procession routes, transport hubs, and crowded public places like shopping malls. Border security units at air force bases, as well as the Coast Guard and Indian Navy, may also increase vigilance to prevent infiltration from the Indo-Pakistani borders. Security arrangements are unlikely to affect multinational business interests unless militants stage any significant attacks.


Civil Unrest

Officials are wary of Hindu-Muslim communal clashes during the festival, especially in states with mixed populations such as Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Localized curfews could be temporarily imposed if significant violence breaks out.



Increased opportunistic crime, such as harassment and theft, could take place at large gatherings that attract a sizeable number of tourists, mainly in Mathura and other parts of Uttar Pradesh State. Stampedes due to overcrowding are also possible.



Some travel delays are probable, especially in urban centers around the holiday. Authorities will likely enforce road closures, traffic diversions, and heavy vehicle restrictions around prominent celebration venues. Increased congestion is probable on open roads; ground shipping may be temporarily affected. Officials typically introduce additional train and bus services to alleviate congestion caused by the large numbers of people traveling to their hometowns for the holidays. Rerouting of services is also likely during major festivities March 10.



Most businesses, including banks, will close on the scheduled national holiday March 10; states may declare additional public holidays March 9-11. Some establishments may alter business hours through March 11.

Other Concerns

Although the authorized sale and personal use of bhang - a form of cannabis traditionally consumed during Holi - is not deemed illegal in India, its cultivation is strictly controlled. Consuming bhang from untrusted or illegal sources also poses a health risk.

India has bolstered measures such as travel restrictions and health screenings to prevent and control the spread of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Although there is no official advisory on limiting of public events within India, organizations may cancel or curtail planned Holi events involving crowds over a few hundred people. The Indian diaspora in other affected countries such as China, Singapore, and South Korea is likely to cancel celebratory gatherings.


For organizers of Holi events:

  • Attempt to limit large-scale events involving over 1,000 participants.
  • Remind unwell participants – those suffering from fever, fatigue, cough, or breathing difficulties – to avoid the event. Ensure that individuals under official surveillance by health authorities or those who have travel history to mainland China in the last 14 days do not attend.
  • Maintain a registration list of participants, if practical.
  • Carry out temperature screening at entry points; deny entry to unwell individuals.
  • Ensure event venues are ventilated and are adequately equipped with facilities such as soap or alcohol-based gel for handwashing.
  • Increase the cleaning frequency of public areas.


For attendees:

  • Avoid public events if you have traveled to mainland China in the past 14 days, are feeling unwell, or have been advised home quarantine by health officials.
  • If feeling unwell during the event, leave immediately and seek appropriate medical attention.
  • Remain vigilant and practice good personal hygiene, such as frequent handwashing with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette by covering your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue. Avoid touching your face. Minimize close contact such as shaking hands with other event participants and consider adopting alternative greetings.
  • Commercial disruptions are possible, as workers and consumers may avoid nonessential outdoor exposure. Health problems such as eye irritation and wheezing can occur if air quality dips severely, especially for people with pre-existing respiratory conditions. Review contingency plans for fire emergencies and work arrangements in case of severe air pollution.


Exercise caution around religious venues and other sites commonly identified as potential militant targets. Confirm business appointments, deliveries, road status, and transport reservations March 9-11. Confirm flights; do not check out of hotels before verifying onward travel. Allow additional travel time and plan for alternative travel and shipment routes. Drive cautiously in areas with planned celebrations, mainly around public squares and temples. Carry identification documents to present at security checks; heed all official instructions.

Individuals with pre-existing skin and respiratory allergies should carry adequate medication and consult with a physician before partaking in celebrations. Stay indoors in well-ventilated areas whenever possible and seek medical attention if allergy symptoms occur.


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