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Holi - Not Just the Festival of Colors

Updated: Mar 17, 2022

Holi is a popular ancient Hindu festival, also known as the "Festival of Love", the "Festival of Colors'' and the "Festival of Spring” celebrated on Falgun Poorunima (Full moon in the Hindu calendar month of Falgun) which fenerally fall in the month of March of Gregorian calendar . The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as a festival of love. The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil, as it celebrates the victory of Vishnu as Narasimha Narayana over Hiranyakashipu. It also signifies eternal and divine love of Radha Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as a festival of love. It originated and is predominantly celebrated in the Indian subcontinent but has also spread to other regions of Asia and parts of the Western world through the Indian diaspora.

This festival is celebrated over a period of 2 days. The first day is Choti Holi where in evening Holika Dahan (burning of Demon Holika) takes place and the following day is Holi which is played with colors and flowers

Holi in Pihwai Art

This color playing Holi is known with different names in different states of India and also has very unique local flavors and traditions in this festival. Apart from Holi, this festival is known with various local & regional names such as Dhulandi ( Haryana), Phagwah (Bihar), Ukul Manjal Kuli (kerala), Yaosang (Manipur), Kahila Holi ( Uttarakhand) , Shigmo (Goa), Jajiri (Telangana) , Hola Mohalla (Punjab), Dola (West Bengal).

Traditions & Cultural significance.

The Holi festival has a cultural significance and is the festive day to end oneself of past errors, to end conflicts by meeting others, a day to forget and forgive. People pay or forgive debts, as well as deal anew with those in their lives. Holi also marks the start of spring, an occasion for people to enjoy the changing seasons and make new friends.

Although the festival of Holi is best known today for its party atmosphere, it also has ancient Origin & a religious significance. Holi is referenced in the Vedas, Puranas, and even in stone inscription from 300 BC found at Ramgarh. There are also representations of the celebration is sculptures and murals on old temple walls in different part of India. For example, a temple at Hampi has a 16th century panel depicting a prince and princess about to be drenched in colored water. This is just one of several examples of royalty taking part in Holi celebrations during the medieval period. Various traditional painting of India have clear depiction of Holi festival in their art work since its inception.

Religious History

There is a legend to explain why Holi is celebrated as a festival of triumph of good over evil in the honor of Hindu god Vishnu and his devotee Prahalad. King Hiranyakashipu father of Prahalad, according to a legend found in chapter 7 of Bhagavata Purana, was the king of demonic Asuras, and had earned a boon that gave him five special powers. As per that he could not be killed by human or animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons), and neither on land nor in water or air. With this Hiranyakashipu grew arrogant, thought he was God, and demanded that everyone worship only him. Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahalad, however, disagreed. He was and remained devoted to Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu. He subjected Prahalad to cruel punishments, none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika, Prahalad's evil aunt, tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada was not. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahalad, who survived while Holika burned. Seeing this Hiranyakashipu himself charged towards Prahalad to kill him.

That time Lord Vishnu, appeared as an Narsimha Avtar to restore Dharma. This Narsimha avtar is special one which is half human and half lion (which is neither a human nor an animal), at dusk (when it was neither day nor night), took Hiranyakashipu at a doorstep (which was neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (which was neither land, water nor air), and then eviscerated and killed the king with his lion claws (which were neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon).The Holika bonfire and Holi signifies the celebration of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahalad over Hiranyakashipu, and of the fire that burned Holika. It is believed that Holika was created to ward off all sorts of fear. Hence Holika, although a Demoness, is worshipped along with Prahlada before Holika Dahan

`Holi in Madhubani Art

The color of play in this festival has a popular legend behind it. It is said that the naughty and mischievous Lord Krishna started the trend of playing colors. Radha was a fair skin girl whereas Krishna has darker skin tones. He applied color on her beloved Radha to make her like him. The trend soon gained popularity among the masses. No wonder, there is no match to the Holi of Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana - the places associated with the birth and childhood of Radha and Krishna.

The Celebration

Holika Dahan - It is believed that all sorts of fear can be conquered by doing Holika Puja on Holi. Holika Puja bestows power, prosperity and wealth. Days before the festival people start gathering wood and uple ( Cow dung cakes) and other combustible materials for the bonfire in parks, community centres, near temples and other open spaces. The place where Holika is kept is rinsed with cow dung and the holy water of river. A wooden pole is kept in the center and surrounded with beads or garlands of toys made of cow dung which are popularly known as Gulari, Bharbholiye or Badkula. Holika pile is decorated with shields, swords, sun, moon, stars and other toys made of cow dung. Idols of Holika and Prahlada usually made of cow dung are placed on the top of the heap.

During Holika Dahan, the idol of Prahlada is taken out. Also, four beads of cow dung are kept safe before the bonfire. One is kept safe in the name of ancestors, second in the name of God Hanuman, third in name of Goddess Sheetala and fourth in the name of the family. On top of the pyre is an effigy to signify Holika who tricked Prahalad into the fire. On the eve of Holi, typically at or after sunset, the pyre is lit, signifying Holika Dahan. The ritual symbolizes the victory of good over evil. People sing and dance around the fire. People also

Holi Of Colors - Great excitement can be seen in people on the next day when it is actually the time for the play of colors. People get all the time to get crazy and wacky. Bright colors of gulal and abeer fill the air and people take turns in pouring color water over each other. Children take special delight in spraying colors on one another with their Pichkaris (Water Guns) and throwing water balloons at passers by. Women and senior citizens form groups called tolis and move in colonies - applying colors and exchanging greetings, Songs, dance on the rhythm of dholak and mouthwatering Holi delicacies such as Gujhiya & Jalebi, Fafda & Gathiya are the other highlights of the day. Thandai & Ecstasy of Bhang is also associated with Holi. There is also a very popular tradition of consuming Thandai & intoxicating bhang on this day.

During the early days, the “gulal” colors of Holi were made at home using flowers of the “Tesu tree”, otherwise called the “Flame of the Forest”. The flowers which blooms in the season, are dried in the sun and then ground to fine dust. The powdered dust once mixed in water gave way to the most brilliant hue of saffron-red. The saffron-red pigment and colored powdered talc called “abeer” were the mainstays at Holi festival celebrations, long before the manufactured colors of today. With changing times artificial colors have made their way deep down in this festival. But the spirit of the festival remains the same.

Braj ki Lathmar Holi

No Holi coverage can be complete without the famous Brij Ki Holi. Hindu deities Radha and Krishna grew up in neighboring villages of Barsana and Gokul respectively in the Brij Region of India. Over there the festival is celebrated until Rang-Panchmi (5th day of Holika Dahan) in commemoration of their divine love for each other. “Braj ki Lathmar Holi” is a close relationship between Krishna and Holi and symbolizes the. It is said that when the teams of Nandgaon reach Barsana with pitchers, then the women of rain show lots of sticks on them. Men have to avoid sticks and at the same time, women have to be soaked in colors.

The tradition of the Holi is one where all becomes equal irrespective of their wealth, Social Status, Cast, religion and even the enemies turn friends and everybody celebrates the festival together with a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood.

In the evening people visit friends and relatives and exchange gifts, sweets and greetings. This helps in revitalizing relationships and strengthening emotional bonds between people.

Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the united fabric of our country. For, the festival is celebrated by non-Hindus also as everybody likes to be a part of such a colorful and joyous festival. The mood and festivities of Holi cut across all classes, castes, and religions and brings people together. With Holi, celebrate the onset of spring by filling their day and life with the colors of joy, prosperity, happiness, and fun.

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