New Delhi: India burst with colours and frenzied street dances by thousands of revellers on Thursday as the nation celebrated Holi, a seasonal festival joyously observed by all - young and old, rich and poor, Hindus and Muslims.
Celebrations of the festival of colours, heralding the onset of spring, began early on Thursday morning amid bright sunshine in many parts of the country. People spilled out onto the streets to smear each other with coloured powder, coloured water and mud as well. Politicians and celebrities also didn't remain far off from the revelry of the day which like many Indian festivals is embedded in a Hindu legend.
There were clouds of colour in the capital's neighbourhoods as loud celebrations continued throughout the day. Elders cutting across religious and regional divides hugged each other. Streets were filled with young and old, men and women drenching and splashing colour on one another.
Children were seen doing what they do best -- playing pranks by spraying coloured water with 'pichkaris' or water guns and hurling water-filled balloons at passers-by from rooftops and balconies of their houses.
Elders drank 'thandai' -- an intoxicant made of 'bhang' or cannabis -- and offered sweet gujiyas to guests. Youngsters rode motorbikes, throwing colours in the air and shouting "Holi hai".
The day passed off peacefully as the authorities said no untoward incident was reported from anywhere in the national capital, where over 2,500 paramilitary commandos along with 400 teams of Delhi Police were deployed in the wake of intelligence inputs of a terror threat.
Barricades were set up at many places to check trouble as more than 2,500 traffic policemen were on duty to keep a close watch on those flouting road safety norms and creating problems, particularly for women.
Police patrolled the main roads to keep miscreants at bay.
"No case of violence was reported," Special Commissioner of Police Muktesh Chander told IANS. But the Delhi Fire Services received over 12 complaints of minor fires from various parts of the national capital.
Delhi Police booked 558 people for drunken driving, with the highest from south Delhi, on the eve of the festival, associated with boisterous fun.
The celebrations were louder in crowded urban pockets of Delhi. "I was waiting for this morning since long. It is fun," said Ronit Tomar, a 14-year-old boy, smeared with different hues of colour, from Sangam Apartments in Rohini.
He threw a watercolour-filled balloon at a passer-by who was caught unaware. As the man looked around, Tomar shouted "Bura na maano Holi hai" (Don't mind, it is Holi).
Politicians also had fun, an apparent break from political mudslinging. Many of them made a big splash of the day and were seen clicking selfies with visitors.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted his Holi pictures and wished "everybody on this festival". About the terror alert, the home minister said: "There are routine alerts issued before every festival. The country is safe."
Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul celebrated the day at the party headquarters with leaders and workers.
"My message is of peace and brotherhood," Rahul Gandhi told reporters. Asked if the greetings were for Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well, he said: "Yes. My greetings are for everyone."
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal celebrated Holi with auto-rickshaw drivers, his family members and others at his official residence.
"Played holi with my family, volunteers, ministers, MLAs, officers, autowallas and my dear junta. Happy Holi," Kejriwal tweeted.
Bihar politicians like Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also celebrated Holi together. Lalu Prasad drove off to the chief minister's residence along with his two minister sons - Tejaswi and Tej Pratap Yadav.
Holi also showcases Indian traditions of communal harmony as Muslims, Christians and Sikhs play it in large numbers with their Hindu brethren. Such scenes were seen in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and many other places of north and east India.
In West Bengal, the festival was celebrated a day earlier as "dol". People across the state marked it with colours, songs, dances and special dishes.
In Punjab, thousands of people gathered at Sikh holy town of Anandpur Sahib, 85 km from Chandigarh, for the final day of the 'Hola Mohalla' festival - where traditional weapons and the 'gatka' martial art display were the highlights.
Celebrations also took place in Haryana. At some places in the state, especially in rural areas, women could be seen playing the 'lathmaar' Holi with sticks and wet ropes in which they hit men with them.