Discover India - Holi

Holi, known as the "Festival of Colours", is primarily observed in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and countries with large Indic diaspora populations, such as Suriname, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad, United Kingdom, United States, Mauritius, and Fiji. Some states in India where Holi is celebrated with immense fanfare are Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, West Bengal, Gujarat and Manipur. People irrespective of age take part in the Holi celebrations.

Holi celebration

It is held on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun according to the Hindu calendar. The festival is mostly held in the month of March and is the greatest spring festival of Hindus and Sikhs. The festival marks the end of winter and the abundance of the upcoming spring harvest season.

Holi in India is celebrated to mark the eradication and burning of various evil forces. There is also a social significance in the festival as it marks the time of good harvests and fertility of the land.

Rituals performed during Holi

Holi is celebrated over two days. The first day or the eve of Holi is known as Holika Dahan. On this day, a public bonfire is held. Effigy of Holika, the devil minded sister of demon King Hiranyakashyap is placed in the wood and burnt. The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of a true devotee.

Flowers of Dhak or Palash are used
to make traditional colors

The second day, popularly known as Dhulheti, is celebrated with widespread enjoyment. People enjoy themselves by throwing coloured powder known as gulal, and water at each other. On this happy occasion, dances and folk songs are also important features in the festival. Holi is also celebrated by sending greeting cards and Holi gifts to friends and relatives.

One of the most joyous traditions of the holi festival is the 'Breaking the Pot' event. A buttermilk pot is hung high in the streets. Men make a pyramid to break the pot and break it. During this time women sing folks songs of holi festival. They throw a lot of water over the men who try to break the pot.

Legend associated with Holi

There are various legends associated with this festival. Foremost is the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap.The legend says there once lived a powerful devil king, Hiranyakshyap, who considered himself a God and wanted everybody to worship him. To his great fury, his son, Prahlad began to worship, Lord Vishnu. To get rid of his son, Hiranyakshyap asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad on her lap, as she had a boon to enter fire unharmed. Legend has it that Prahlad was saved for his extreme devotion for the lord while Holika paid a price for her sinister desire. The legend goes that before Holika died, she begged for Prahlad's forgiveness and the prince forgave her and announced that her name would be remembered once a year. Thus the festival 'Holi' was created. The burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi. The tradition of burning Holika or the 'Holika dahan' comes mainly from this legend.

Celebration of the various legends associated with Holi reassure people of the power of the truth, as the moral of all these legends is the ultimate victory of good over evil.

Eco Friendly Holi

Holi was traditionally played by making colours from flowers blooming at this time of the year and the natural coloured extracts from seasonal herbs. These were considered to have a medicinal effect on the diseases like viral fever and cold which were prevalent during the spring season. They were beneficial for skin and health. And, unlike the plastic and metal pichkaris of today, they used water pistons made of bamboo! However, chemicals and other toxic substances slowly replaced flowers and herbs in the colours. These colours cause serious harm to our skin. Holi too has become yet another source of environmental degradation. To de-pollute Holi and make it in tune with nature, as it is supposed to be, several social and environmental groups propose a return to more natural ways of celebrating Holi.

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