Holi is a Hindu festival of spring also known as the festival of colors, and sometimes the festival of love. It is an ancient religious festival that has become popular among not only Hindus but in many parts of South Asia, as well as people from other communities. It is celebrated in the proximity of spring equinox, in the Phalguna Purnima (full moon). The festival date varies each year according to the Hindu calendar, and usually comes in March, sometimes in February in the Gregorian calendar. This year falls on March 20, 2019!
On the first day of festivity at night, bonfires are created in which it is symbolized that the demon Holika, the sister of Hiranyakashipu, is being burned. The second day, called Dhulhendi, people throw colored powders and water at each other. It is believed that spring, when changing weather, can bring colds and fever. For this reason, colored powders are thrown that have a medicinal meaning. The colors are traditionally made with Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva and other medicinal herbs that have been prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors. In this celebration a special drink called Thandai is also prepared, which sometimes contains bhang (marijuana).
Throughout the years, the medicinal aspect of Holi has been decreasing in which everyone interprets the day in their own way, there are chases and colors for each one with dry powder and colored water, some go with water pistols and others carry balloons filled with colorful water for their water war. What remains the same is that the Holi is for everyone and everyone has the same equality, be it friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and the elderly. The festivities and color battles take place in the open streets, open parks, outside the temples and buildings. Groups of people carry drums and musical instruments, they go from one place to another, singing and dancing. People move around the city and visit their families, friends and enemies, it’s a day of happiness.
Why is Holi celebrated?
The word “Holi” originates in “Holiká,” the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu. The story tells us that King Hiranyakashipu had earned a favor that made him practically indestructible. The special powers blinded him, made him arrogant, and he felt that he was God, and like all those who gain a lot of power, he demanded that everyone adore him alone, forgetting all other people and actual deities.
However, Hiranyakashipu’s own son, Prahlada, did not agree. He was, and remained dedicated to Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu and subjected Prahlada to cruel punishments, none of which affected the child or his determination to do what he believed was right. Finally, Holiká – bad aunt of Prahlada – tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holiká wore a cloak / mantle that made her immune to fire damage, whereas Prahlada was not … As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and fell on top of Prahlada covering him. Holiká just burned and Prahlada survived. Having enough and forseeing the revenge of King Hiranyakashipu, Vishnu appeared and killed Hiranyakashipu. The bonfire serves as a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, of the fire that burned Holiká. Holi is celebrated the day after the Holiká bonfires.
In the Braj region of India, where Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days, commemorating the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The festivities mark the official beginning of spring, and with Holi it is celebrated as the feast of love. There is a symbolic myth behind the commemoration of Krishna as well. Baby Krishna transitioned to his characteristic dark blue skin color, because a demon, Putana, poisoned him with his fake mother’s milk. In his youth, Krishna despairs of his white skin, Radha and other Gopikas (girls) were thought to like him because of his skin color. His mother, tired of despair, asks him to approach Radha and color his face with whatever color she wanted. This is exactly what he does, and Radha and Krishna become a couple.
The playful coloring of Radha’s face has since been commemorated as Holi. Beyond India, these legends are used explain the meaning of Holi, you will find similar stories in some Caribbean and South American communities of Indian origin, such as Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago. The fact the legens still resonate around the world, shows how inclusive this festivity can be.
The stories/legends above are not the only one, in India there are many more detailing its origins, just like the numerous deities, the interpretations are infinite.
With this, I wish you all a Happy Holi!