Holi - The festival of colours and merriment

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By Dr. Eugene D’Souza, Moodubelle

01 March 2010: Holi is a very important festival in India and other parts of the world where Hindu people are in significant numbers. Holi, also called the Festival of Colours, is a popular Hindu spring festival.  Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the last full moon day of the lunar month of Phalgun, which covers the period between end of February and the beginning of March. This year the Holi festival is being celebrated on Monday, 1st march 2010.


Holi festival celebrates the victory of good over evil and this is clearly mentioned in stories associated with Holi festival. Holi festival story brings out the unshakable devotion exhibited by Prahlad, which is an inspiration for children and devotees. The other Holi story is that of Krishna and Radha and yet another story is that of Lord Shiva burning Kamadeva.



According to Narad Purana, this day is celebrated in the memory of Prahlad’s victory and the defeat of his aunt ’Holika’. The legend says that there once existed a mighty demon king by the name of Hiranyakashyap who wished that everybody in his kingdom should worship him. However, his son, Prahlad became a worshipper of Lord Vishnu. He tried every way to stop Prahlad from worshipping Vishnu but could not succeed.  Out of frustration and anger, the demon king then decided to kill his son. Despite all his efforts, Prahlad remained safe by the blessings of Lord Vishnu.


Finally, Hiranyakashyap instructed his sister, Holika to sit in the burning fire with Prahlad in lap. She was blessed with a boon, as a result of which no fire could burn her. But the opposite happened, Prahlad survived and Holika was charred to death. This incident thus re-established the faith of people in the ultimate divine power and is thus celebrated as the day of eternal love, devotion, blessings and the victory of Good over evil. It is because of this event, Holika (a bonfire) is burnt every year on Holi. The burning of the effigy of Holika is called Holika Dahan.



Holika Dahan or the lighting of bonfire takes place on the previous evening of Holi. The day is also popularly called ’Choti Holi’ or the ’Small Holi’.The bigger event - play with the colour takes place on the next ’big’ day. Holika Dahan is an extremely popular tradition and is celebrated with fervour all across the country and is symbolic of triumph of good over evil.


One of the popular stories of Holi festival is also associated with the evergreen love of Krishna and Radha. It is said that Lord Krishna was jealous of Radha’s fair colour and asked mother Yashoda for the reason for Radha’s fair colour. Yashoda jokingly said if Krishna was so jealous of Radha’s fair colour he could change her complexion by smearing colour. Young Krishna who was waiting for an opportunity for a prank did exactly as his mother suggested. He found natural colours to darken the fair skinned Radha. Thus, the fun-filled, energetic festival also speaks of the perpetual love of Krishna and Radha.  As a result, the festival is celebrated over a period of 16 days in Vrindavan and Mathura.



There is another legend that is also attributed to the origin of Holi. This story is about Kamadeva, the god of love. Kama’s body was destroyed when he shot his weapon at Shiva in order to disrupt his meditation and help Parvati to marry Shiva. In anger for disrupting his meditation, Shiva opened his third eye, the gaze of which was so powerful that Kama’s body was reduced to ashes. For the sake of Kama’s wife Rati (passion), Shiva restored Kamadeva only as a mental image, representing the true emotional and spiritual state of love rather than physical lust. It is also believed that the Holi bonfire is lit in commemoration of this event.


It is also believed that the festival is a kind of thanksgiving to nature for its bounty of fresh colours all around created by flowers, leaves and fruits that manifest fresh energy in human beings. The nature wakes up from the deep slumber of winter and starts life with renewed vigour.



On the following day after the bonfire, Holi is celebrated with great enthusiasm, fun and gaiety. Family members, relatives, friends and neighbours smear each other with verities of colours known as gulal. For children and youth Holi gives an opportunity to play by throwing spraying coloured water through giant syringe shaped pichkaris. 


Use of bhang is an integral part of the Holi celebrations in different parts of India. The bhang is prepared in ritualistic manner out of the marijuana leaves mixed with milk and almonds ground to fine paste and consumed in liquid form which is a form of intoxicant that takes the consumer to a new height of joy and happiness. Drenching and soaking in coloured water has been the trend of the day. Holi has been a time for cultural extravaganza as well. In most of the cultural circuits ‘Hasya Kavi Sammelanas’ are being organized where poets present satirical and witty poems reflecting the conditions in politics and society.



The festival of Holi has been celebrated in different ways according to local customs and traditions in different parts of India especially in Northern regions.  In Vrindavan, Nandgaon and Mathura the Holi that is celebrated for 16 days has been known as the Lathmaar Holi. In a unique ritual women drenched in colour women with sticks or bamboos pretend to beat men who try to protect themselves with shields.  According to a legend Radha beat Krishna out of anger that he was not living with her. Haryanvi women, especially the sisters-in-law get public sanction to beat their brothers-in-law and take a bittersweet revenge for all the pranks they have played on them on Dulandi Holi.



In modern times this noble and meaningful festival has been reduced to sadistic fun when children and even adults flung water filled balloon from a distance on the unsuspecting passersby causing great inconvenience, embarrassment and even harm. As a result on the Holi day, people are reluctant to venture out for the fear of being harassed by sadistic fun loving youth.


As the Holi festival is the celebration of the victory of good over the evil and the beginning of the colourful season of spring that brings forth new leaves, flowers and fruits let us thank God for His gifts of nature and bounty.


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Comments on this Article
prince, belle,dubai Mon, March-1-2010, 8:09
Nice,imfomative and knowlageble article from Dr eugine D souza.Thanks to BV for publishing this article.
Victor D Souza, Moodubelle / Doha Sun, February-28-2010, 11:31
Happy Holi to All. Holi is more colourful this time with last night India winning the hocky match against Pakistan.
SANJAY YADAV, MUMBAI Sun, February-28-2010, 10:00
Purnima kaa chaand rango ki doli CHAAND SE USAKI CHANDANI BOLI. Khusiyon se bhari ho aap ki jholi MUBAARAK HO AAP KO RANG BIRANGI HOLI
SANJAY YADAV, MUMBAI Sun, February-28-2010, 10:00
Purnima kaa chaand rango ki doli CHAAND SE USAKI CHANDANI BOLI. Khusiyon se bhari ho aap ki jholi MUBAARAK HO AAP KO RANG BIRANGI HOLI
chinni, vijayawada Sun, February-28-2010, 9:55
this holy is very intristing i feel very happy in this colour full life wish u happy holy
RAMA GOYAL, SAFIDON (HR) Sun, February-28-2010, 9:28
dilip kumar singh, NASHIK Sun, February-28-2010, 8:39
your article is really very informative useful.
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