Thursday, March 05, 2009

Celebrating the Holi Festival in the Montessori Classroom

NAMC Montessori classroom holi festival activities culture curriculum girl with paint
As a Montessori teacher, I am always looking for ways to expose my students to various cultures and their celebrations. Not only does this exposure allow my students to learn to embrace diversity, it shows them how everyone and everything is connected. Studying Holi in a Montessori classroom can lead to discussions about how many different people in different places and times celebrated the arrival of spring. This can then lead to discussions on what happens when winter becomes spring and why that is important. The Montessori lessons on the fundamental needs of man and other lessons in cultural, physical and political geography would also be appropriate at this time.

Holi is the joyful Hindu Festival of Colors. It is celebrated over several days in early spring when the wheat is harvested. The festival marks the coming of spring and observes new life and the seasons. This year the Holi festival is celebrated on March 11th. It is an ancient Indian festival that is believed to have existed several centuries before Christ and is mentioned in stone inscriptions and in sculptures on the walls of old temples. The meaning of the festival has changed. In earlier times, the festival was a rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families.

Celebrating the Holi Festival in the Montessori Classroom

NAMC Montessori classroom holi festival activities culture curriculum krishna radna
Two traditional stories are associated with Holi. One story is about Krishna and his beloved companion, Radna. Krishna liked to play tricks on Radna and her friends, the milkmaids (gopis). It is said that during Holi, Krishna liked to pour colored water on Radna and her friends.

Another story told at Holi is about the son of King Hiranyakashyap (thought to be a demon king), Prahlad. Hiranyakashyap wanted to be worshipped instead of God. His son refused and in turn, the king ordered Prahlad’s death. Hiranyakashyap’s evil sister, Holika (for whom the festival is named) led Prahlad into a huge bonfire. She knew she was protected from fire, but did not know this was only true when she entered into a fire alone. As the story goes, Holika died and Prahlad was saved by God.

On the eve of Holi, people light fires to get rid of evil spirits. In the middle of the fire, they place a large tree branch that represents Prahlad. After the fire is burning, they remove the branch to “save” Prahlad. They might also place an effigy of Holika in the fire and allow it to burn. This represents how good always wins against evil. Everyone dresses in their best clothes for this event.

NAMC Montessori classroom holi festival activities culture curriculum powdered paint gulal
On the morning of Holi (this day is called Dhuleti), people dress in old, usually white, clothes and cover themselves and others in brightly colored paint. During this time, carts line the streets of northern India. The carts are filled with gulal (brightly colored powdered paints). Krishna is said to have used a pichkari (a brass syringe) to squirt the colored water on Radha. Children in India use many things from plastic bottles to water pistols for this fun and chaotic time. In the afternoon, the people go inside to wash off the colored paints and spend the rest of the day resting. They eat Indian candies. One candy is called laddu and is made from split pea flour and sugar syrup.

Holi Ideas for the Montessori Classroom
  • Depending on your climate and in an appropriate environment, students could partake in the tradition of throwing colored paint. You could use this opportunity to explore primary and secondary colors and the relationships between colors. Students can also study the medicinal herbs from which paint for this celebration was originally made.
  • Students could create a timeline of what is known about the history of Holi and include other corresponding world events.
  • Invite a Hindu parent or community member to come to class to talk about Holi, Hinduism and India. They could show pictures and artifacts and have a cooking lesson with the students.
  • Use the discussion of the Holi celebration to talk about other cultural spring celebrations, the seasons, different calendars, and/or major world religions.
  • Older students can rewrite the story of Prahlad in their own words and illustrate it using their own interpretations. Students might want to write a contemporary retelling or find similar storylines in modern fiction.
  • Students could perform a play about the festival of Holi or the story of Prahlad. They could do a traditional play or a production using shadow or hand puppets.
Recommended Books:
  • A World of Festivals: Holi-The Hindu Festival of Colours, by Dilip Kadodwala
  • Divali and Holi (Festival Fun for the Early Years), by Meg Jones
  • Here Comes Holi: The Festival of Colors, by Meenal Pandya
  • Holi, by Uma Krishnaswami
Sources Used & Recommended Sources:
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Thursday, March 5, 2009.


  1. Montessori kanchana said, I read you article about the holly festival.It is very informative and as a montessori teacher i can discuss with my children and which will also include the seasons.This will help me improve the creativity and bring the diversity of my classroom together.It's sounds "fun ".

  2. Thanks for reading the blog. I'm glad you enjoyed the article on the festival of Holi. Please let us know what ideas you use in the classroom and how it goes!

  3. I am from India and have celebrated Holi myself. I think it is a great way to show that a new season has arrived and a fun way for children to welcome the season. I will explain this custom to the children in my class and see what we can come up with. Thank you for the idea.

  4. Thanks for you comment. I would love to hear what you and your students decide to do!

  5. I liked your style of taeching kids in the school about Holi. Is there a way to show Holi colors without using it in the class. My concern is beacuse the carpeted floor may get dirty and school won't give me permission to do that/

  6. happy holi 2010 to each and every visitors of this blog

    Note: Please visit to send holi greeting cards to your friends and relatives

  7. Hi Kavita!
    Thanks for reading the blog. Maybe you could use confetti or paper streamers in lieu of paint? Another option would be to incorporate "splashing and throwing" paint into an art project? That way the paint could be more contained. I hope that helps and good luck!


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