The festival of Holi is celebrated on the day after the full moon in early March every year. The day before Holi is known as Holi Dahan and can be a holiday in some states.
History of Holi
Holi was originally a festival to celebrate the start of Spring, good harvests and fertility of the land. The first mentions of it date back to a poem from the 4th century.
Today it is better known as a symbolic commemoration of a legend from Hindu Mythology.
The story is that there was once a king who resented his son, Prince Prahlada, worshipping Lord Vishnu. He tries to murder the prince on several occasions but fails each time.
Finally, the king’s sister Holika who is said to be immune to burning, sits with the boy inside a fire. However, the prince emerges unhurt, while his aunt burns in the fire and dies.
Holi remembers this event, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as a symbolic representation.
The festival is also associated with the eternal love of Krishna and Radha, and hence, Holi is spread over 16 days in Vrindavan as well as Mathura – the two cities with which Lord Krishna shared a deep affiliation.
How is Holi celebrated?
Holi is marked by colourful parades accompanied by folk songs, dances and a general sense of relaxed fun.
Nowadays Holi is an excuse for young Indians to shed their inhibitions and caste differences for a day of fun. Teenagers spend the day flirting and misbehaving in the streets, and everyone chases everyone else around, throwing brightly colored powder and water over each other.
The tradition of throwing brightly coloured powder and water is said to come from the love story between two Hindu gods, Radha and Krishna. Krishna is famously depicted as having bright blue skin and the legend has it that he was sad he didn’t have a fair complexion like Radha. He told his mother about this and she suggested that instead of wishing for fair skin, he should instead smear Radha with paint, so they both have coloured skin; hence the tradition of trying to ‘colour’ others as a sign of affection at Holi.
The main colours of the powders have symbolic meanings. Blue represents Krishna, Red represents love and fertility, green symbolises spring and new growth and yellow is the colour of turmeric, a spice native to India and a natural remedy.
The festival begins on the night of the full moon. Fires are lit on street corners to cleanse the air of evil spirits and bad vibes, and to symbolize the destruction of the wicked Holika, after whom the festival was named.
The following morning, the streets fill with people running, shouting, giggling and splashing.
In 2018, Assam, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal celebrate Doljatra. Also known as Dola Purnima, Dolyatra or Dol-Jatra, it is essentially the same festival as Holi, but has added emphasis as it is the last festival of the Bengali year.
Did you know?
During the festival, people are heard saying ‘Bura na mano, Holi hai!’ which means ‘do not mind, it’s Holi’, which acts as a way of avoiding any responsibility for any pranks played on Holi.