Sunday, March 16, 2014

Holi: A Festival of Colours

Holi is known as the 'Festival of Colours'. It is one of the most popular Hindu festivals celebrated all over the world nowadays. But mostly it is celebrated by all Hindus in India and Nepal through social gatherings on a larger scale by playing with colors, distributing as well as eating lots of sweets, and spending the occasion with friends and relatives in great joy and happiness. 
Colors for Holi

Holi indicates the incoming of Spring Season which is full of freshly blossoming flowers and shades of nature. Holi literally means "it has stepped in".

Holi festival starts with the burning of Holika on the eve of phalgun Purnima each year which is treated as the last day of the year as per the solar based Hindu calendar followed mostly by North Indians. The new year begins for them on the next day itself. So it is celebrated as a festival of Spring and colors to mark the end of gloomy winter and beginning of a new year with new hopes and joy.

As per English Gregorian calendar, this festival normally falls in the first half of March every year.  

The Stories Behind Holi Festival

There are many stories associated with the celebration of this festival.

The Story of Female Demon Holika

It was a belief that Holika was the sister of a great demon king Hiranyakashipu, the father of Prahlada. Prahlada was a devotee of Lord Narayana. Hiranyakashipu did not like this. He had conquered all world with his strength and forced all to worship him and got destroyed all temples and beheaded those not following his orders. Prahlada was not afraid of him and continued his devotion to Lord Narayana. So after trying all kinds of punishments to change his mind, he orders his sister Holika to burn him in fire by sitting herself in a pyre of fire holding him on her lap. Holika had a gift of fire not destroying her. But due to Prahlad' s devotion towards God, when she sits in the fire holding him, he gets saved and she dies as her magical power gets lost. The demon king also gets killed after some period by God in the shape of Narasimha ( half Lion and half Human shaped God). To celebrate this victory of good over evil, the festival of Holi started to be celebrated by all people.

The Story of Putana, Another Female Demon 

It is believed that Lord Krishna's maternal uncle Kansa was a demon and Krishna took birth to kill him and other demons. So Kansa tried all his means to kill Krishna even when he was a child. He sent the demoness Putana to feed poisonous milk to Krishna to kill him. But Lord Krishna knew her intention and when she came in a human form to breastfeed him, he sucked out all her blood along with the milk and killed her. So to mark this death of evil demons, Holi came to be celebrated.

The Story of Kamadeva or Manmatha (The Cupid or Love God)

It is said that once Kamadeva tried to unite Lord Shiva and Parvathi by using his cupid arrows when Lord Shiva was depressed and left all his duties in the aftermath of being ill-treated at Daksha Yagna by His consort Sati's father. As the whole world was in danger, Kamadeva used his cupid arrows. But Shiva got very angry and burnt him into ashes. Thereafter, he cools down on Kamadeva wife's request and gives rebirth to him. Later Shiva marries Parvati who was Sati in a previous life. So Holi is celebrated as a cupid festival.

The Story of (Fair) Radha and (Black) Krishna 

According to another story, Lord Krishna became black due to the drinking of the poisonous milk and as he was a naughty child, he used to question his mother Yashoda repeatedly regarding the reason for his being black and Radha being very soft and fair. She got frustrated with his repeated questions and told him to go to Radha, if he is so worried at her being beautiful, and apply any kind of color to her face to satisfy himself. Accordingly, Krishna went to her and played colors with her. This incident also gave rise to the celebration of Holi with colors for many days by young women and couples.

How to Celebrate Holi

Burning the Holika Bonfire

The previous night celebration is known as "Holika Dahan". 
Dry leaves and branches of trees and bushes are collected at some empty centers of roads and colonies and a replica of demon Holika is placed on them. These huge pyres are normally kept ready by starting the collection of material from 15 days prior to Holi itself so that the pyre becomes big by the day of Bonfire. They may even add some dry shrubs and branches so as to make it a big fire with high flames visible to all around. The pyre is lit on the evening before midnight of Purnima falling prior to the actual day of Holi festival. People experience the joy of burning the demon Holika and shout the slogans of "Ra..Ra..Ra... Holi Hi..." and some of them may dance against the play of erotic songs around the fire. They eat sweets also to mark the end of bad days and evil.

Playing With the Colors

The next day, which is the actual day of Holi, people get ready early in the morning to play with colors. Women also are free to enjoy this day without any restrictions to play color along with men. By 8'o clock or even earlier in the morning, they start from their houses to play the colors on the streets and in their neighborhood houses.

Most people go around in groups and mobs with buckets of colors mixed in water and with the pumping sprays to sprinkle the color water over the bodies of people.

People wear old clothes for this purpose of playing with colors. Some women and children keep buckets of colored waters at their doorsteps or on terraces and balconies and sprinkle water on passers-by and enjoy the occasion. Some people avoid colors and stay back at homes. But they play with dry colors by applying the colors, mostly called avir or abir on the foreheads and sprinkle dry gulal powder slightly on bodies as a custom. (The red powder is "avir" and the rose one is "gulal" in the above image.) The play with colors continues normally up to noon. Then they return homes and take full bath washing those colors from bodies. Some people used to play with paints and oils and grease also previously. But they have become civilized nowadays and stopped from doing so even though some close acquaintances take pleasure in playing with paints even now.

Celebrating the Festival

A famous sweet "Gujiya"
People wear new clothes after taking bath and take food along with sweets. Many special dishes are prepared on this occasion. The most important of them being gujiya, matari, potato chips and papads, ordinary salt puri and sweet puri, kheer and many other dishes of veg and non-veg as per their likings.

Many people attend temples along with children and family and the temples will be overcrowded with devotees mostly at evening wearing colorful dazzling clothes. Then they pay visits to their neighbors and friends' houses and those people also come to their homes and meet each other with love and joy, eat sweets and savories at each other's house and enjoy the occasion fully up to midnight. When they go for visits, they take the avir also with them and apply it to the foreheads of family members there. In return, they also do the same thing.

The "Holi Milan" as it is called, the visiting of each other's house, continues for many days after the festive day is over as it will not be possible to pay visits to all the homes in one single day. So they pay visits as per their convenience and exchange greetings.

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