Lord Krishna felt he was too dark and wondered if he was good enough for the ever so fair Radha. So one day, his mother Yashoda playfully opined that he could smear colour on Radha’s face and change her complexion! Fascinated and amused, Krishna proceeded to do just that and thus the festival of colours was born.
Holi is the Festival of Colours, the Festival of Love and the Festival of Spring. It popularly celebrates the victory of Lord Vishnu’s avatar Narasimha Narayana over the asuran Hiranyakashyap.
Hindus across India and Nepal gather, perform religious rituals, light bonfires and enjoy a free-for-all day of smearing each other playfully with colours. Over the years, as the diaspora from the Indian subcontinent moved around the world, Holi celebrations also moved with them. Today it is celebrated in various parts of Asia, United Kingdom, United States, Netherlands, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The start of celebrations marks the arrival of spring and the harvest season. The evening of the Full Moon in the month of Phalguna (as per Hindu Calendar) is celebrated as Holika Dahan.
According to the legend, Prahlada was a true devotee of Lord Vishnu and he was the son of the evil King, Hiranyakashyap, who wanted to kill his own son for worshipping Lord Vishnu. The King sought his sister, Holika’s help to kill Prahalad in a pyre. Holika had a magical shawl that Lord Brahma had gifted her which offered protection from fire. Prahalad was made to sit on her lap and the pyre was lit. Prahalad chanted Lord Vishnu’s name and His divine power saved Prahalad and burnt Holika instead. And that is how this day came to be known as Holika Dahan.
In the meantime, Hiranyakashyap had been given a boon by Brahma that he cannot be killed by human, God or animal. So, Lord Vishnu appears as Narasimha, part human and part animal. At twilight he encounters and kills the demon. Narasimha’s fury was so great, it could only be calmed by Prahlada’s prayers. The victory of good over evil sparks the celebrations for Holi.
While many observe fast, there are some dishes that hold prominence during this day – Kheer, Poori, Thandai, Gujiya, Malpua, Dahi Bhalle and Kadhi Paokda. The delicacies vary region to region. One of the most popular drinks is Bhang which is made from cannabis paste mixed in with thandai.
Various regions celebrate Holi differently. In Bihar it is called Phaguwa and people light bonfires, Goa calls it Ukkuli and celebrations, which centre around the Konkani temple in Gosipuram, last almost a month, in some parts of Gujarat a woman playfully beats her brother-in-law with a sari rolled up into a rope in mock rage, while he in turn would bring sweets to her in the evening!
Maharashtra celebrates Holi (also called Shimga) for 5-7 days, for Manipuris celebrations coincide with the festival of Yaosang, in Odisha the icons of Jagannath are replaced with Radha and Krishna, Punjab celebrates it as Luhatak for 8 days with great pomp and show.
In South India, Telangana celebrates Holi as Kamuni Punnami/Kama Purnima or Jajiri. It’s a 10 day festival, which includes children playing with Kolata sticks singing folk songs and dancing. Money is collected, along with rice, corn and wood. Kamudi games are also famous. On the eve of Holi a bon fire is lit representing Kama Dahanam.
In Sirsi, Karnataka, a unique folk dance called ‘Bedara Vesha’ is performed five days before the festival and in Tamil Nadu it is Panguni Uthiram, which signifies the start of love and marriage. Many divine weddings have taken place on this day, most notably though, according to Valmiki’s Ramayana, Sita’s marriage with Rama was celebrated.
In Nepal Holi is a national festival celebrated in the month of Falgun. Traditional concerts are held, various large scale celebrations take place and people have a great time splashing colours and enjoy amazing food and drinks.
The most common factor and fun behind Holi is colour. The psychedelic mix of hues form a rainbow of haze across the air, people dance and sing to beats from drums & stereos, from throwing waterballoons filled with colour to spraying each other with water guns and peals of laughter ring loud across the country as celebrations pick up momentum. The power of Holi is to unite and instill love, togetherness and happiness. People consider it an occasion to meet family and friends to pray, forgive, unite and play together.