Holi - the festival of colors - is undoubtedly the most fun-filled and boisterous of Hindu festival. It's an occasion that brings in unadulterated joy and mirth, fun and play, music and dance, and, of course, lots of bright colors!
With winter neatly tucked up in the attic, it's time to come out of our cocoons and enjoy this spring festival. Every year it is celebrated on the day after the full moon in the Phagun and glorifies good harvest and fertility of the land.
It is also time for spring harvest. The new crop refills the stores in every household and perhaps such abundance accounts for the riotous merriment during Holi. This also explains the other names of this celebration - 'VasantMahotsava' and 'Kama Mahotsava'.
"Don't Mind, It's Holi!"
During Holi, practices, which at other times could be offensive, are allowed. Squirting colored water on passers-by, dunking friends in mud pool amidst teasing and laughter, getting intoxicated on bhaang and reveling with companions is perfectly acceptable. In fact, on the days of Holi, you can get away with almost anything by saying, "Don't mind, it's Holi!" (Hindi = Buranamano, Holihai).
It is said the spirit of Holi encourages the feeling of brotherhood in society and even the even the enemies turn friend on this day. People of all communities and even religions participate in this joyous and colourful festival and strengthen the secular fabric of the nation.
There is a symbolic legend to explain why Holi is celebrated as a festival of colours. The word "Holi" originates from "Holika", the evil sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu. King Hiranyakashipu, according to legend, was the King of Multan and had earned aboon that made him virtually indestructible. The special powers blinded him, he grew arrogant, thought he was God, and demanded that everyone worship only him.
Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada, however, disagreed. He was and remained devoted to Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu. He subjected Prahlada to cruel punishments, none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika - Prahlada'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 Prahlada. Holika burned, Prahlada survived. Vishnu appeared and killed Hiranyakashipu. The bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, and of the fire that burned Holika. The next day when the fire cooled down, people applied ash to their foreheads, a practice still observed by some people. Eventually, coloured powder came to be used to celebrate Holi.
Celebration of the Holi
On the eve of Holi, typically at or after sunset, the pyre is lit, signifying HolikaDahan. The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil. People gather around the fire to sing and dance.
Great excitement can be seen in people on the next day when it is actually the time for the party of colours. Shops and offices remain closed for the day and people get all the time to get all the time to get crazy and whacky. Bright colours of Gulal and abeer fill the air and people take turns in pouring colour water over each other. Children take special delight in spraying colours on one another with their pichkaris and throwing water balloons and passers-by. Women and senior citizen from groups called tolis and move in colonies – applying colours and exchanging greetings. Songs, dance on the rhythm of dholak and mouthwateringHoli delicacies are the other highlights of the day. Lovers too long to apply colours on their beloved. This has a popular legend behind it. It is said that the naughty and mischievous Lord Krishna started the trend soon gained popularity amongst 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.
There is also a tradition of consuming the very intoxicating bhang on this day to further enhance the spirit of Holi. It is so much fun to watch the otherwise sober people making a clown of themselves in full public display. Some, however, take bhang in excess and spoil the spirit. Caution should therefore be taken while consuming bhang delicacies.
After a day of play with colours, people clean up, wash and bathe, sober up and dress up in the evening and greet friends and relatives by visiting them and exchanging sweets. Holi is also a festival of forgiveness and new starts, which ritually aims to generate harmony in the society.