Holi: Holi is a religious Hindu spring festival.

What is Holi?

Holi is a Hindu religious festival. It celebrates the end of winter and the onset of spring. It is the Festival of Colors, where one throws water and colors on the others.

It is generally celebrated in India and Nepal, as well as in other countries that have a strong Indian diaspora, specifically those following Hinduism. Holi has also garnered a strong following between people of other communities. They often visit Holi events held in communities. Some locations in North India that have been traditionally connected to the Lord Krishna, such as the cities of Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon, Uttar Pradesh, and Barsana, have become popular tourist destinations during the season of Holi.

What are alternate names of Holi?

Holi is generally known as the Festival of Colors. In Hindi, Punjabi and Nepali, it is called Holi. However, it is also known as Phagwah or Doḷajātra in Odisha, and as Dol Jatra or Basantotsav (literally spring festival) in West Bengal and Assam. At times, Holi is also called Basanta Utsav.

When is Holi celebrated?

There is no fixed date for Holi, especially as per the Gregorian calendar that most of the world follows. As per the Hindu calendar, Holi is celebrated on the Phalguna Purnima (Full Moon). This date usually falls in February or March in the Gregorian Calendar.

Where is Holi usually celebrated?

Holi is usually celebrated in India and Nepal. It is also celebrated by Hindu populations of Bangladesh and Pakistan. Additionally, Holi is also popular in countries with large Indic diaspora populations following Hinduism, such as Suriname, Malaysia, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, the United States, Mauritius, and Fiji.

Many of the Hindu Indian population in these countries host holy events, in which the community gathers to celebrate the region. People of other communities are often invited to attend these events. These events have gotten so popular with people of other communities that there are often special Holi events hosted for people of other communities. Also, numerous locations in India that have been traditionally associated with Holi, have become a popular tourist destination during Holi.

Why is Holi celebrated?

Holi mainly celebrates the ending of winter and the beginning of spring. On Holi, Hindus celebrate the colors of spring and say goodbye to winter. Holi also commemorates good harvests and the fertile land.

As the mythological story goes, there was once a powerful demon king named Hiranyakashipu. He had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. After long penance, he asked for and was granted the boon that he not be killed "during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra". Since, he could not be killed; he got arrogant, and demanded that the people not worship the Gods but him instead.

However, his own son, Prahlada was a devotee of Vishnu. He refused to give his father the status equal to a God. Due to this, Hiranyakashipu attempted to have Prahlada, his own son killed. He tried poisoning him, having him trampled him with elephants and bitten by venomous snakes. However, Prahlada survived each attempt by grace of Vishnu.

Then, Hiranyakashipu ordered to sit on a pyre in the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu's demoness sister. Holika, herself had a boon preventing her from being burned by fire. As a dutiful son, Prahlada followed his father’s orders and sat on his aunt’s lap, while praying to Vishnu to protect him. Miraculously, when the fire was lit, Prahlada remained unharmed, while Holika burned to her death.

The salvation of Prahlada and the death of Holika is what Holi celebrates. In fact, Holi is derived from Holika. This is why on the eve of Holi, on Phalguna Purnima, a huge bonfire is lit and worshiped.

In some parts of India, such as Mathura, where Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The main emphasis of the festival is on the coming of spring and the celebration of love. In these places, Holi is celebrated for 16 days, from the Phalguna Purnima to Rangpanchmi.

What are some customs and traditions associated with Holi?

  • In most areas, Holi lasts about two days. However, in some areas Holi is celebrated for 3, 5 or even 16 days.
  • On the eve of Holi, a huge bonfire is lit to celebrate the salvation of Prahlada and the death of the demoness, Holika. The bonfire is worshiped as being blessed by Vishnu. In some places, cow dung is thrown into the fire while screaming insults at the fire, assumed to be Holika.
  • People dress all in white and visit family and friends. Groups of people often roam around in the streets.
  • Dance, food, music, and colored powder are a huge factor of Holi.
  • The most popular tradition of Holi is to throw colors and water on to people they know and on to other people they many not know. Squirt guns, pichkaris (big plastic syringes) and water balloons are often employed.
  • Holi lowers (but does not remove completely) the strictness of social norms, which includes gaps between age, gender, status, and caste. Together, the rich and poor, women and men, enjoy each other’s presence on this day. No one expects polite behavior; as a result, the atmosphere is filled with excitement, fun and joy.
  • Youngsters often also dunk each other into pools, dunking mud on to them and at times even throwing eggs at people amidst teasing and laughter.
  • Many people also get intoxicated on bhang. In fact many places actually serve bhang to passersby. Bhang is a preparation from the leaves and flowers (buds) of the female cannabis plant, often mixed and served in thandai. Thandai, most commonly known as "Sardai", is a cold drink prepared with a mixture of almonds, fennel seeds, magaztari seeds (watermelon kernel), rose petals, pepper, vetiver seeds, cardamom, saffron, milk and sugar. People who do not want to partake in bhang, can drink thandai without the addition of bhang.
  • In fact, on the days of Holi, one can get away with almost anything by exclaiming, "Don't mind, it's Holi!" (Hindi = Bura na mano, Holi hai.)


Image Courtesy: plentyofcolour.com, humboldt.edu

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