Holi is a spring festival also known as the festival of colors or the festival of love. It is an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia.
It is primarily observed in India, Nepal, and other regions of the world with significant populations of Hindus or people of Indian origin. The festival has, in recent times, spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colors.
Holi celebrations start with a Holika bonfire on the night before Holi where people gather, sing and dance. The next morning is a free-for-all carnival of colours, where participants play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. The frolic and fight with colours occurs in the open streets, open parks, outside temples and buildings. Groups carry drums and musical instruments, go from place to place, sing and dance. People move and visit family, friends and foes, first play with colours on each other, laugh and chit-chat, then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks. Some drinks are intoxicating. For example, Bhang, an intoxicating ingredient made from cannabis leaves, is mixed into drinks and sweets and consumed by many. In the evening, after sobering up, people dress up, visit friends and family.
Holi is celebrated at the approach of vernal equinox, on the Phalguna Purnima . The festival date varies every year, per the Hindu calendar, and typically comes in March, sometimes February in the Gregorian Calendar. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair ruptured relationships
There is a symbolic legend to explain why holi is well celebrated as a colour fest. The word “Holi” originates from “Holika”, the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu. King Hiranyakashipu had earned a boon that made him virtually indestructible. The special powers blinded him, he grew arrogant, thought he was God, and demanded that everyone worshiped 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 (shawl) 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, of fire that burned Holika. The day after Holika bonfire is celebrated as Holi.
In Braj region of India, where Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna, a Hindu deity. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as festival of love. There is a symbolic myth behind commemorating Krishna as well. Baby Krishna transitioned into his characteristic dark blue skin colour because a she demon Putana poisoned him with her breast milk. In his youth, Krishna despairs whether fair skinned Radha and other Gopikas will like him because of his skin colour. His mother, tired of the desperation, asks him to approach Radha and colour her face in any colour he wanted. This he does, and Radha and Krishna became a couple. The playful colouring of the face of Radha has henceforth been commemorated as Holi. Beyond India, these legends to explain the significance of Holi are common in some Caribbean and South American communities of Indian origin such as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
Radha and the Gopis celebrating Holi, with accompaniment of music instruments Holi is an important festival to Hindus. It is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalgun (February/March), (Phalgun Purnima), which usually falls in March, sometimes in late February.
The festival has many purposes; most prominently, it celebrates the beginning of spring. In 17th century literature, it was identified as a festival that celebrated agriculture, commemorated good spring harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colours and saying farewell to winter. Holi festivities mark the beginning of new year to many Hindus, as well as a justification to reset and renew ruptured relationships, end conflicts and accumulated emotional impurities from past.
It also has a religious purpose, symbolically signified by the legend of Holika. The night before Holi, bonfires are lit, in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Little Holi. People gather near fires, sing and dance. The next day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated. Children and youth spray coloured powder solutions at each other, laugh and celebrate, while elders tend to smear dry coloured powder (Abir) on each other’s face. Visitors to homes are first teased with colours, then served with Holi delicacies, desserts and drinks. After playing with colours, and cleaning up, people bathe, put on clean clothes, visit friends and family.
History and rituals
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival with its cultural rituals. It is mentioned in the Puranas, Dasakumara Charita, and by the poet Kālidāsa during the 4th century reign of Chandragupta II.The celebration of Holi is also mentioned in the 7th-century Sanskrit drama, Ratnavali
On the eve of Holi, typically at or after sunset, the pyre is lit, signifying Holika Dahan. The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil. People gather around the fire, sing and dance.
Play with colours
Holi frolic and celebrations begin the morning after Holika bonfire. There is no tradition of holding puja (prayer), and the day is for partying and pure enjoyment. Children and youth groups form armed with dry colours, coloured solution, means to fill and spray others with coloured solution (pichkaris), balloons that can hold coloured water, and other creative means to colour their targets
“Celebration of spring by Krishna and Radha”, 18th-century miniature; in the Guimet Museum, Paris
In Gujarat, Holi is two day festival. On the evening of the first day people lit the bonfire. People offer raw coconut, corn to the fire. The second day is the festival of colour or “Dhuleti”, celebrated by sprinkling coloured water and applying colours to each other. Dwarka, a coastal city of Gujarat, celebrates Holi at the Dwarkadheesh temple and city wide comedy and music festivities.
The Holi celebration has its celebrative origins in Gujarat,citation needed particularly with dance, food, music, and coloured powder to offer a spring parallel of Navratri, Gujarat’s Hindu festival celebrated in the fall. Falling in the Hindu month of Phalguna, Holi marks the agricultural season of the Rabi crop.
In Western India, Ahmedabad in Gujarat, a pot of buttermilk is hung high on the streets and young boys try to reach it and break it by making human pyramids. The girls try to stop them by throwing coloured water on them to commemorate the pranks of Krishna and cowherd boys to steal butter and “gopis” while trying to stop the girls. The boy who finally manages to break the pot is crowned the Holi King. Afterwards, the men, who are now very colourful men, go out in a large procession to “alert” people of the Krishna’s possible appearance to steal butter from their homes.
In some places, there is a custom in the undivided Hindu families that the women of the families beat their brother-in-law with her sari rolled up into a rope in a mock rage as they try to drench them with colours, and in turn, the brothers-in-law bring sweets (Indian desserts) to her in the evening.
The spring season, during which the weather changes, is believed to cause viral fever and cold. The playful throwing of natural coloured powders has a medicinal significance: the colours are traditionally made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Āyurvedic doctors.
Many colours are obtained by mixing primary colours. Artisans produce and sell many of the colours from natural sources in dry powder form, in weeks and months preceding Holi. Some of the traditional natural plant based sources of colours are
Orange and red The flowers of palash or tesu tree, also called the flame of the forest, are typical source of bright red and deep orange colours. Powdered fragrant red sandal wood, dried hibiscus flowers, madder tree, radish and pomegranate are alternate sources and shades of red. Mixing lime with turmeric powder creates an alternate source of orange powder, as does boiling saffron (kesar) in water.
Green Mehendi and dried leaves of gulmohur tree offer a source of green colour. In some areas, the leaves of spring crops and herbs have been used as source of green pigment.
Yellow Colours for Holi on sale at a market in Mysore.
Haldi (turmeric) powder is the typical source of yellow colour. Sometimes this is mixed with chickpeas, gram or other flour to get the right shade. Bael fruit, amaltas, species of chrysanthemums, and species of marigold are alternate sources of yellow.
Blue Indigo, Indian berries, species of grapes, blue hibiscus and jacaranda flowers are traditional sources of blue colour for Holi.
Magenta and purple Beetroot is the traditional source of magenta and purple colour. Often these are directly boiled in water to prepare coloured water.
Brown Dried tea leaves offer a source of brown coloured water. Certain clays are alternate source of brown.
Black Species of grapes, fruits of amla (gooseberry) and vegetable carbon (charcoal) offer gray to black colours.