Holi is the epitome of vibrant colours, fun, frolic, bonhomie, and ecstatic celebrations. A lunar festival celebrated in the month of Phalgun (February-March) of the Hindu calendar, it marks the end of winter and the onset of spring in India.
This year Holi is being celebrated on 8th March 2023. In recent times, Holi celebrations have gone truly global, thanks to the Indian diaspora around the world.
In India, Holi is synonymous with playing with colours, pichkaris (water guns), water balloons, and gorging on indulgent festive food (thandai, bhang, gujia, dahi bhallas, among others). It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and is a celebration of love, harmony, and oneness.
Holi celebrations span over two days starting on the evening of Phalugun Purnima (full moon day) with Holika Dahan followed by Rangwali Holi also known as Dhulandi on the next day.
The Legends Behind Holi
Holi has its fair share of mythologically significant stories which tell how the festival came into being.
King Hiranyakashyap and Prahlad
Among the many legends associated with the festival of Holi is the story of the demon King Hiranyakashyap and his son Prahlad from Hindu mythology.
King Hiranyakashyap for his severe penance was granted a boon that he could not be killed by any man or animal. Believing that he was immortal, the king forced people to worship him. However, his son Prahlad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu refused to do so. Acting out of anger and spite, the demon king asked his sister Holika to kill him.
Holika had the boon of protection against fire, so she took Prahlad into a fire pyre thinking Prahlad would burn and she would remain unscathed. But the opposite happened.
Prahlad for his devotion and faith remained unharmed and Holika was burnt to ashes. Later, Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha avatar, killed the demon King Hiranyakashyap signifying the victory of good over evil.
Holika Dahan Celebrations
For Holika Dahan (‘Burning of Holika’) celebrations on the eve of Holi, a bonfire is lit and people perform rituals while offering prayers for the internal evil in all of us to be destroyed. Devotees complete the prayers by walking around the bonfire three, five, or seven times along with vessels of water.
Lord Krishna and Radha
Another popular legend associated with Holi is of the eternal love of Lord Krishna and Radha. It is said that Lord Krishna, conscious of his dark skin colour, worried if Radha would accept him.
He sought the advice of his mother, Yashoda, who suggested that he colour Radha in any colour he liked. In his mischievousness, Lord Krishna smeared colours on Radha’s face and professed his love for her.
Playing with colours in Holi commemorates the divine love between Lord Krishna and Radha and is the most loved tradition of the festival of colours.
In Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Nandagaon, and Gowardhan, places related to Lord Krishna, Holi celebrations have a different fervour and enthusiasm.
Another Holi celebration in India that stands out is the Lathmar Holi in Barsana, the home of goddess Radha. Women hitting men with lath (sticks) as men try to shield themselves is a part of the celebrations here.
Holi Celebrations with Colours
On the day of Holi, people play with colours and smear each other in a riot of colours. Water guns, water-filled balloons, music, and dance makes for an exuberant atmosphere and everyone is a fair game to colour.
It’s common for people to say – bura na mano holi hai (‘Don’t mind it’s Holi’) while drenching others (even strangers) with colours. People dance to the Holi songs with the ever popular ‘rang barse’ still staying at the top of the charts.
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It is customary for people to visit friends and family and come together to eat, drink and partake in Holi delicacies.