It’s that joyful, colourful time of the year again! Holi is right around the corner. Are you ready with your colours and water? If you are, pause for a moment and hear what we have to say. We’re all excited that the covid positive numbers are coming down, but the world is not out of the woods yet. So, when you go out to celebrate Holi this year, please stay in small groups with people in your immediate circle. Let us be responsible for our health and the others around us.
According to the Hindu calendar, Holi celebrations begin on the night of the full moon, or Purnima, in the month of Phalgun. And because it follows a lunar calendar, the date changes year to year and falls anytime between February and March. March is much warmer down south, but in north India, March is quite pleasant, and spring is in full bloom. The eve of Holi is celebrated with a bonfire called Holika Dahan, and the following day, people smear colours on each other in this exuberant festival.
What is Holi, hmm? The festival of colours, love, and spring…. What is this well-known festival based on? How is it celebrated in different parts of India?
There are many legends surrounding the holi celebrations. The Holika Dahan or burning of Holika’s effigy signifies the events in young Prahlad’s life, as mentioned in the Bhagavat Purana. Hiranyakashipu, the king of the asuras, considered Lord Vishnu his enemy because Vishnu had defeated and killed his brother Hiranyaksha. So when he found out that his son Prahlad was Vishnu’s ardent devotee, it didn’t sit well with him. He tried to change Prahlad’s mind about Vishnu, but it didn’t work. Hiranyakashipu lost all reason and looked for ways to kill his son. He asked his sister Holika to sit with Prahlad in a burning pyre in one such incident. There was a reason for this. Holika had a special blanket that would protect her from fire. But brother and sister undermined Prahlad’s faith in Vishnu. As he sat on his aunt’s lap and prayed to Vishnu, the blanket wrapped itself around Prahlad, and he was saved, much to Hiranyakashipu’s horror. But Holika was destroyed in the fire. Today, Holika Dahan, or the burning of Holika’s effigy, is an integral part of the festivities on the eve of Holi.
Another prominent legend ties Holi to Radha and Krishna. It is said that Krishna was downcast one day. He worried that Radha might not love him because he was dark-skinned. After all, she was so fair! But his mother, Yashoda, told him to take it up with Radha and suggested that he apply colour on her. And that’s exactly what Krishna did! He put colour on Radha’s face! And so we celebrate Holi by smearing our loved ones with colour!
The third significant reason for celebrating Holi has to do with when Shiva opened his third eye to burn Kama, the god of love. Shiva had gone into deep meditation, but Parvati wanted him to come back to this world. So she sought the help of Kama. But Shiva was not happy to be disturbed from his meditation and, without further thought, burnt Kama down. You can imagine how Kama’s wife, Rati, felt about losing her husband. She, in turn, went on a penance. Shiva, by now, had cooled down and forgave Kama and brought him back to life.
Holi has several names, the festival of love, the festival of colours, and the spring festival. The traditional celebrations of Holi with gulal (or dry colours) and Pichkari (or water pistols) used to be more common in North India and among the north Indian communities in the south. Of course, now, everyone joins in the fun as it is such a lively festival.
Celebrations begin with Holika Dahan on the eve of Holi. People gather sticks or wood and prepare a bonfire in open spaces. In some parts of India, they place an effigy—a statue or model of Holika in a wooden pyre.
Uttar Pradesh sees some of the grandest celebrations, as many of the towns associated with Krishna are in this state. Vrindavan, Mathura, and Braj celebrate the festival grandly.
You must all know about throwing colours at each other. But have you heard of women beating men with sticks during Holi? Aha, that’s true, my friends! So, in a twist to the traditional celebrations of throwing colours at each other, the women in the town of Barsana use lathis or long sticks to beat men! If you are worried, it is all for fun and not to hurt anyone.
Did you know that Uttarkhand has a month-long celebration for Holi? The state has three different Holi celebrations-the Baithki, or sitting Holi; the Khadi, or standing Holi; and the Mahila, or women’s Holi. What makes the celebrations stand out from those in other parts of India? It is the music!!!
The Baithki Holi starts on the day of Vasant Panchami. According to the Hindu calendar, this is the fifth day of the month, Magh. And Holi is about 40 days after Vasanth Panchami. When my friend told me that she celebrates for forty days, I was jealous! Talk about singing and eating good food for over a month!
In Gujarat, on the eve of Holi, there is a bonfire, and people throw offerings of corn, coconut, and khoya. The following day is called Dhuleti, and this is the day people play with colours. A mud pot filled with buttermilk is tied high up on poles, and young men build human pyramids to break the pot. And yes, the person who breaks the pot wins lots of money too.
Holi is a major festival in Bihar. Known as Phaguwa, there is a unique kind of celebration here. Before playing with colour, People play Holi with, wait for it…, mud and ashes! How amazing is that!!! And, yes, there’s singing and dancing with the dholak drums!
In West Bengal, the festival of spring is not known as Holi but as Dol Yatra. Remember the legend of Krishna rubbing colour on Radha’s face? That is the basis of Dol Yatra. Idols of Radha and Krishna are placed in decorated Palanquins, and devotees carry them around the city in a yatra or journey. People use dry colours, gulal or Abir, to smear each other’s faces.
Manipur is famous for its Yaoshang celebrations, and the festival is a five-day affair. The Yaoshang is a hut-like structure built with straw and bamboo. Families gather around this building and set fire to it to signify the destruction of evil. If playing with colours is not enough, there is a special tradition called Nakatheng, where children, especially girls, get to knock on doors and collect money. The festival coincides with the traditional folk dance Thabal Chongba, where adolescent boys and girls hold hands to form a circle and dance under the moonlight.
Whether you celebrate Holi because it is a traditional festival for you or join in your friend’s festivities because it looks so much fun, we wish you a colourful, happy, and safe Holi.
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