One of the most colorful and joyful of Hindu festivals – Holi is celebrated every year to say farewell to the winters and welcome spring by playing with colors. It is a festival of great significance celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun which is the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar.
The festival has various legends associated with it. The foremost is the legend of Asura King Hiranyakashyap who demanded everybody in his kingdom to worship him but his pious son, Prahlad became a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap wanted his son to be killed. He asked his sister Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap as Holika had a boon which made he immune to fire. The story goes that Prahlad was saved by the Lord himself for his extreme devotion and evil-minded Holika was burnt to ashes, for her boon worked only when she entered the fire alone.
Since that time, people light a bonfire, called Holika on the eve of Holi festival and celebrate the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion to god. Children take special delight in the tradition and this has another legend attached to it. It says that there was once an ogress Dhundhi who used to trouble children in the kingdom of Prithu. She was chased away by children on the day of Holi. Therefore, children are allowed to play pranks at the time of ‘Holika Dahan‘.
It is said that the naughty and mischievous Lord Krishna started the trend of playing colors. He applied color on her beloved Radha to make her one like him. The trend soon gained popularity amongst the masses. No wonder, there is no match to the Holi of Mathura, Vrindavan, and Barsana – the places associated with the birth and childhood of Radha and Krishna.
Another story goes that when Sati immolated herself in her father’s sacrificial fire, Shiva got very upset. After having wrecked the whole yagna area and more, he ultimately calmed down but decided to stay away from all worldly affairs and went into deep meditation. Sati was reborn in the house of Himalaya as Parvati. A Shiva devotee from childhood itself, she devoted herself to serving the Lord. He was, however, oblivious to her and the Gods were worried as the balance of the world was swaying precariously, and the only solution was a union between Shiva and Parvati. It was then that Indra ordered his friend, Kamdev, the God of love and passion, to help her win over Shiva.
Knowing fully well the extent of Shiva’s anger, Kamdev still decided to take the risk and created an illusion of spring so strong that all living creatures were affected by it. He then shot a love arrow at Shiva’s heart with the intention of making him fall in love with Parvati. Shiva did awaken, but it was his third eye that first looked at Kamdev and burnt him to ashes with his anger. Later, of course, he realized his mistake and on Parvati’s insistence, gave Kamdev immortality in the invisible form. Many consider this a huge sacrifice by Kamdev and burn a bonfire a day before Holi to commemorate his incineration at Shiva’s hands. People offer the cooling paste of sandalwood to Kamdev on Holi to reduce the sting from his burns. Mango blossoms are also offered as he is said to be very fond of their intoxicating fragrance. Songs dedicated to his wife Rati’s sorrow and her pain of separation are sung in front of the bonfire.
Holi Rituals and Customs
Holi is spread out over two days. On the evening of the first day of Holi, a public bonfire is held, commemorating the burning of Holika. Traditionally, Hindu boys spend the weeks prior to Holi combing the neighborhood for any waste wood they can find for the bonfire. The fire is lit sometime between 10 PM and midnight (at the rising of the moon), not generally in an orderly fashion. Everyone gathers in the street for the event, and the air rings with shouts, catcalls, curses and general mayhem.
Holi also commemorates various events in Hindu mythology, but for most Hindus, it provides a temporary opportunity for Hindus to disregard social norms, indulge in merrymaking and generally “let loose.”
Play of Colours
The next day great excitement can be seen in people on the next day when it is actually the time for the play of colors. Bright colors of powder color fill the air and people take turns in pouring color water over each other. Children take special delight in spraying colors on one another with their pichkaris and throwing water balloons and passers-by. Women and senior citizen form groups called tolis and move in colonies – applying colors and exchanging greetings. Songs, dance on the rhythm of dholak and mouthwatering Holi delicacies are the other highlights of the day.
Modernization of the Festival
Today also we get excited as Holi approaches. In metro towns now there is a unique trend that is catching up. People are going to “Holi parties” with their family and friends and celebrate with many people. They get to meet new people, make new friends and a very beautiful twist is given to the festival.
For the first time, Holi became a public holiday in Pakistan’s Sindh province in 2016.
In an unprecedented move, the provincial Sindh government issued a notification declaring March 24 as a public holiday. Earlier only the minority Hindu community in Pakistan was given the holiday to celebrate the “festival of colors”.
Ecstasy of Bhang
There is also a tradition of consuming the very intoxicating bhang on this day to further enhance the spirit of Holi. It is so much fun to watch the otherwise sober people making a clown of themselves in full public display. Some, however, take bhang in excess and spoil the spirit. Caution should, therefore, be taken while consuming bhang delicacies.
After a fun filled and exciting day, the evenings the spent in sobriety when people meet friends and relatives and exchange sweets and festive greetings.
Holi is supposed to be played with scented and harmless colors, flowers etc.
It is supposed to reduce the differences between people—irrespective of their gender roles, caste, status etc. and bring them all together in the celebrations.
It is supposed to let you break all barriers and have fun… sheer fun.