The Holi festival is the traditional Indian festival of colors that marks the arrival of spring and the end of winter. Ritually, the Holi festival is a celebration of love, friendship and the zest of life through colors. In ancient scriptures, the festival of Holi represents a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.
It is important to understand that in Hinduism, the various festivals are events that give us an opportunity to celebrate every act and event of creation that links us to our past. The common thread in the celebration of all major Hindu festivals is a puranic tale that talks about the Gods defeating the demons. In a philosophical sense, the Gods and demons are representations of our own good and evil tendencies. The celebration of these festivals is to empower and encourage us to choose wisely and perform good deeds. The holi festival also has its genesis in ancient stories that are mentioned in our ancient scriptures.
Significance of Holi festival: Why do we celebrate Holi
The english word “festival” translates as “Utsava” in Sanskirt. Utsava is formed from ‘ut’ meaning ‘removal’ and ‘sava’ meaning ‘misery’.
When we celebrate the festival of Holi we are basically expressing the joy of participating in the diversity of life and reminding ourselves that each “winter” in our life is temporary and will be followed by a joyful “spring”
The word Holi originates from the word Holika who was the sister of king Hiranyakashipu, a demon king. According to the legend, King Hiranyakashipu, king of Multan had become virtually indestructible because of a boon that he had earned and that had made him arrogant. He demanded that people consider him as God and worship him. His son Prahlad, however, did not worship him and remained an ardent worshipper of Lord Vishnu. This angered Hiranyakashipu, and he subjected his son to several punishments. However, none of those punishments affected him. The King then asked his sister, Holika who was immune to fire to sit on a pyre with Prahlad on her lap. Prahalad continued to recite Lord Vishnu’s name. With the blessings of God, the fire didn’t do any harm to him, but Holika got burnt to ashes. It is the death of Holika that signifies the importance of Holika Dahan. By remembering this story, people celebrate Holi every year to reinforce their faith in the almighty and take solace from the fact that “bhakti” or faith will take them through the trials of Kali Yuga.
Colors becoming a part of the Holi festival is also dated back to the time of Lord Krishna and Radha. Lord Krishna used to celebrate the festival with colors and play Holi with his friends at Vrindavan and Gokul. This has led to people also interpret Holi as a celebration between the divine love of Lord Krishna and Radha. Remembering this incident, people apply colors to forget personal enmity and forgive & forget.
Popularly, the festival of Holi is celebrated with friends and family coming together and enjoy themselves by playing with “gulal” or colors. The common belief is that Holi is being celebrated to welcome spring and bid goodbye to the winters. It is also known as Vasant Mahotsava because spring harvest is associated with it. The festival brings happiness and prosperity for all. People also drench each other with colored water to celebrate this festival.
The Holi festival starts on Purnima and lasts for two days. The first day of the holi festivals is known as Choti Holi or Holika Dahan and the second day of the Holi festival is known as Holi or Dhulandi. The festival of Holi falls in the month of Falgun, somewhere between the end of February to the middle of March.
How is the Holi Festival celebrated in different Parts of India?
- The festival of Holi is celebrated in Vrindavan and Mathura with much pomp and joy as it is here where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. The celebrations in these places span over a week with people visiting temples of Lord Krishna and Radha to get themselves drenched in color and colored water.
- In Barsana (Radha’s village) people play Lathmaar Holi. This is said to be a recreation of the time when Lord Krishna who was from the Nandgaon village visited Radha’s village to play Holi along with his friends. However, sticks were hurled at them to drive them out of the village. Keeping in sync with the tradition, it is still done every year with women hurling sticks at the men and the men trying to save themselves.
- In western India, the tradition is to hang a pot of buttermilk high up in the middle of the street. People form a human staircase and try to break the pot. Whoever succeeds in breaking the pot is crowned as the winner of that area for a year. The tradition of breaking pots is linked to the habit of Lord Krishna who used to steal and break the pots of buttermilk at people’s houses.
- In Eastern India, the way of celebrating the festival of Holi is slighly different. People in Bengal play with a colored powder called Abeer or with colored powder and colored water. Holi here is known as Dol Yatra. Idols of Krishna and Radha are placed on a swing, and people take turns to swing them. Orissa also has similar traditions as those of Bengal and celebrate the festival in a similar way.
- In North East India, Holi is a six-day festival. In earlier times, folk dances and folk songs were performed under the moonlight. This has changed now, and the folk songs have been replaced by modern bands. People set ablaze a thatched hut of twigs and hay, and devotees dance and play with gulal in front of Lord Krishna’s temple. Several cultural activities are performed on the last day of the festival.
The Holi festival has gained popularity and is now celebrated in different parts of the world too.
Holika Dahan is celebrated one day before Holi where a pyre is lit. The ritual symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. People sing and dance around the pyre.
The festival of Holi is said to strengthen the feeling of brotherhood among the people. It remains as the festival that is celebrated with much joy and ecstasy all over India by people of all ages.
ALSO READ: THE STORY OF GODDESS LAKSHMI
Usage of colors in the Holi Festival
In earlier times, the colors known as gulal were made from the flowers of the “palash” or “tesu” tree. No chemicals were added, causing no harm to the skin. But, these days’ artificial colors are made using harsh chemicals that cause skin irritation at times.
Holi Festival Dates in 2017
Holika Dahan or Choti Holi is on the 12th of March
Holi or Rangwali Holi is on the 13th of March