Among the many festivals of India, Holi holds an important significance. Celebrated in the Phalgun month on Purnima (full moon), as per the Hindu calendar, Holi is a festival of smearing colored powder which is called Abeer and Gulal and drenching each other with colored water. The mood of this festival is that of fun, frolic, laughter, togetherness, and enjoyment. Holi is celebrated from North to South and East to West of India and is a much-awaited festival for the Hindus. Streets and lanes see friends running after each other to put color, children chase each other equipped with ‘pichkari’ or water-guns filled with colored water, special sweets and food are made and everything is taken on a lighter note on Holi. Happiness is in the air on Holi. The festival of Holi is about love, to spread and share the love with everyone.
Why Holi festival is celebrated
Holi is to celebrate the beautiful season of Spring or Vasant Ritu and thanking for the harvest season.
The most significant reason why Holi festival is celebrated lies in the Holi story.
The Holi story is from the ancient Hindu texts, the Purans. The story is about the Asura or Demon King Hiranyakashyap and his son Prahlada. The tyranny of King Hiranyakashyap was famous among the people of his kingdom. The King wanted to be considered God by everyone and would not allow worship or devotion of any Gods or Goddesses. In order to be powerful, he did penance and was granted a boon by Lord Brahma which made him invincible. While he was busy in his penance, Lord Indra and the Devas (Gods) attacked his dwelling. However, Sage Narada, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, took Hiranyakashyap’s wife Kayadu under his protection as she was not a sinner and was also pregnant. Because of Sage Narada’s constant chants of Lord Vishnu and spiritual ceremonies to Kayadu, the child in her womb was affected transcendentally. Such was the impact that when Hiranyakashyap’s son, Prahlada, was born and started growing up He knew nothing except Lord Vishnu as the supreme. King Hiranyakasyap failed to make Prahlada revere him as God. Angered by this Hiranyakashyap made his son go through many cruel punishments, including attempts to kill Him but every time Prahlada was miraculously saved by Lord Vishnu. The cruel Hiranyakashyap finally plotted with his sister Holika to kill Prahlada by burning Him. Holika had a boon that she would not get burnt by fire. She tricked Prahlada to sit with her on a burning pyre, but again Prahlada remained unscathed rather Holika was burnt to death as the boon she had been granted was applicable only when she was alone in the fire. Prahlada’s faith in Lord Vishnu always overpowered all attempts made to harm Him and this time too, the Lord saved His beloved devotee. Lord Vishnu, in the avatar of Narasimha (half Lion-half human form), appeared to finish Hiranyakashyap, in the evening of that day. Keeping all the terms and conditions of the boon of invincibility intact, the Lord put an end to the demon King by putting him across His own thighs and with His Lion claws ripped his body apart. This Holi story, the victory of good over evil is the reason for the celebration of Holi.
The other Holi story is about the love of Lord Krishna and Radharanijee. The story says that Lord Krishna in His youth used to keep comparing His dark complexion to Radha’s fair complexion and used to be in doubt whether He will be liked by Radha. So once Yashoda Maa, mother of Lord Krishna told Him to ask Radha to put Her choice of color on His face so that Krishna is assured of Her love for Him. Lord Krishna followed His mother’s instruction and Radharanijee surely colored His face. It is said that since then Holi is being celebrated with the exchange of colors of love. Lord Krishna grew up in the Braj region of India, where Holi is celebrated as Rang Panchami. It is celebrated there as a festival of love.
Holi 2020 will be celebrated on the 9th. – 10th. March.
The festival of Holi actually starts from the previous evening when Holika is burnt, which is called Holika Dahan. This ritual is followed to commemorate the legendary burning to death of Holika. This ritual signifies the death of evil. It is a simple ritual in which a bonfire is lit, sometimes an effigy of Holika is made and put on the bonfire, a garland of dried cow dung is added to the bonfire and Coconut, Wheatgrass, etc. are offered to the fire. People in groups gather in community Holika Dahan and do ‘Parikrama’ (circumambulate) o Holika with prayers to be free of all evil from their hearts and mind, with the thought that good prevails over evil. Post the Holika Dahan, Holi is officially declared with people putting dry color as Tika or on the face of each other and taking the blessings of elders of the family.
The day of Holi is spent with family members and friends gathering together, outside the house in the open to greet each other, smear each other with dry Abeer and Gulal, eat sweets like Gujia, Jalebi, and the special milkshake ‘Thandai’. Popularly, people like wearing white color clothes on Holi and like the white to change to multicolor by the end of the day and enjoy showing off the same. The atmosphere is of fun and frolic. The inner child in everyone shows its true color on this day. Strained relationships are easily healed between people by an exchange of color. Folk songs of Holi are popular and are sung, people dance in joy, cracking jokes is common and everyone is in a mood to make the most of this day. Children and adults alike, wait for the opportunity to smear color or drench each other in the coloured water. Holi is a day when everyone is very tolerant of pranks and teasing and takes everything lightly. Happy faces are seen everywhere.
Holi is celebrated in different states and regions of India in unique styles. For example, In Haryana, it is called Dulandi Holi. Here a ‘Bhabi’ or elder brother’s wife has the social sanction this day to beat up(in a playful manner) her ‘Devar’, younger brother of a husband to make equal all the mischief and teasing that the Devar may have done all through the year. This sweet exception made on this day also reflects the fun relationship that a Bhabi and Devar share.
In West Bengal, it is called Dol Purnima or Dol Jatra. Mentionable is the special Basant festival which was restarted by the world-renowned poet, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan, the University he founded. The women students wearing garlands and other jewelry made of flowers and sarees dance on Ranbindrasangeet (songs composed and written by Rabindranath) and sing the same to welcome Basant or Spring. The Holi colors used are scented dry powder, Abeer. The whole place buzzes with music, song and dance performances and beautiful colored faces in this calm and serene place. Basant Utsav in Shantiniketan is very popular and people from all over West Bengal and other countries visit there on Holi to witness and be part of this very stylish celebration.
The essence of Holi is now spread to foreign countries and many visitors from far off lands come to our country to experience Holi. After all who does not understand the language of fun and love!