Holi is a popular Indian festival, also known as the ‘festival of colours’, and the ‘festival of spring’. The festival celebrates the eternal and divine love of Devi Radha and Lord Krishna. It also signifies the triumph of good over evil. This vibrancy and joyous spring celebration introduce the colourful bloom of nature with the festive spirit of Holi. Holi is also popularly known as the ‘festival of love’ due to its ability to unite people from all sects, religions, and cultures. The festival begins with the advent of Purnima or the full-moon night in the month of Falgun and lasts for a day.
Why is Holi celebrated?
The celebrations of Holi start on the evening before Holi with a Holika Dahan where people gather, perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil be destroyed in the fire. Tracing back along the lines of mythology and history, there goes the Legend of a powerful Devil-King, Hiranyakasipu, who started thinking himself invincible due to a boon granted to him. Maddened by his zeal of hatred, cruelty, and thirst for more power, he started aiming to rule all the three realms-heaven, earth and underground. He exerted violence on his people to start worshiping him, instead of honouring any God. But Hiranyakashipu’s own son, Prahlada remained rooted to his honour and devotion to Lord Vishnu. Angered by his son’s behavior and disobedience, Hiranyakashipu tried to kill his son several times but the boy was saved each time by the Lord’s grace. Eventually, Hiranyakasipu asked his Devil-sister, Holika, who was immune to fire to serve his purpose. Holika set up a delusion for Prahlada to convince him to sit on her lap and a pyre was lighted over them. Holika was burnt to death while Prahlada was safe and sound. Holi symbolises ‘the victory of good over evil.’
Holi also stands as a symbolism of romance and spiritual love that might have emerged from Krishna’s feelings for Radha. Everyone is quite acquainted with the legend of the infant Krishna, drinking poison from Putana-Rakhshasi’s breast and putting her to death due to which he got the bluish hue. Often, he used to remain quite sad if Radha would ever love him due to his complexion. His mother asked him to go to Radha and put some colours on her face. The love between them bloomed and soon resonated as an example to be followed to date.
Rituals of Holi
Days before the actual event of Holi, people start gathering wood for building up a huge bonfire across crossroads of cities or at mass gatherings. This event is celebrated on the eve of Holi and is known as Holika-Dahan. An effigy of Holika is placed and burnt in the raging flames, reminding people of the glory of Prahlada and the misdeeds of Holika.
The day after Holika-Dahan is the main day of the festival and is also known as Dhuleti. The environment shrouds itself with the mood of joyousness with people splashing colours on each other. The Southern part of India worships Kaamadeva, the love-god of the Indian mythology to remind the people of the great pains he had taken when he had shot his ‘love-arrow’ to break Lord Shiva’s meditation and bring his focus back on the worldly delights.
India, being a diverse country holds numerous traditions of Holi across different states. Many argue that the fervour and grandeur of Holi celebrations in Mathura and Vrindawan are incomparable to any, with several cosplay events, fairs, and functions. Maharashtra and Gujrat bring in Holi with the interesting twist of the ‘matka’. A pot of buttermilk is hung up high and a human pyramid is made, aiming to devour it. West Bengal hosts Holi with a vibe of literature and culture. The Viswa Bharati University, founded by Tagore hosts the ‘Basanta Utsav’ or the ‘spring festival’ each year to mark the auspiciousness of Holi and the beauty of spring. The North-eastern states of India celebrate Holi for a period of six days with the amalgamation of the Yaosang festival.
Holi from the perspective of different faiths
Over time, the gleeful spirit of Holi has not been restricted within the faith of Hinduism only, but is embraced with much fervour among the Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, and other communities. The Sikhs celebrate the event of ‘Hola Mohalla’ on the day after Holi to mark their physical and military prowess, followed by kirtans and fairs. The festival lasts for three days and was started by Guru Govind Singh in 1699 CE. The Buddhist communities celebrate Holi with the amalgamation of their Songran Festival. In Thailand, the Songran festival is also known as the ‘traditional Thai New Year’ where people choose to splash water instead of colours.
The vitality and cheerful spirit of Holi is often considered as a beautiful example of the true diversity and oneness of India.