Holi

Holi is a unique Hindu festival and it is one of the most popular festivals observed by all Hindus in India and around the world, without any discrimination of caste, creed, status or gender issue. It is observed on the full moon night of the month of Phalguna, which marks the end of the Hindu calendar. And the next day, the first day of the month of Chaitra, we celebrate Phagotsav as the New Year Day of Hindus living in North India.

It is important to note that according to the Panchangam used in the North, the new month starts on the first day of Krishna Paksha, the dark half of the lunar cycle. Whereas, in the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnatak, the Hindu calendar starts with Shukla Paksha, the bright half of the lunar month. Thus, the month calculation in the North of India is fifteen days ahead of the month mentioned in the three States of the South. Therefore, the New Year in those States falls on Yugadi Day.

Holi is a forty day festival culminating in two days rejoicing. In fact, the chanting of Chowtals and Dhamaris (Holi Songs) start 40 days before, on Vasant Panchami. This tradition was started in Barsana and Gokul, where, on one side Radha and, on the other, Krishna prepared their groups of singers for a Holi Mela competition between the two villages on Phagotsava Day. Therefore, North Indian Hindus celebrate that event as the end of the year party ‘Ho Li’. These two words ‘Ho Li’ literally means that ‘the year that is over’.

Hindus living in villages and towns gather, on the eve, around a bonfire at night. Men, women and children, all sing and dance around the fire. They bring wood and leaves, and throw them in the bonfire, which represent animosity, jealousy and other negative feelings that have been reigning among family members and neighbours of the locality during the ending year. After the bonfire has calmed, they feel relieved by discarding all their negative feelings that had made their life miserable.

The next day, the first day of the first month of the Hindu calendar, Chaitra, Hindus wake up with new zeal and enthusiasm to celebrate Holi or Phagotsav as the New Year Day. All keep amusing themselves whole day by splashing coloured water and throwing coloured powder on their friends, relatives, neighbours and even passers-by. Noisy and colourful processions are taken through the streets, visiting each Hindu house, distributing perfumes and sweets.

Many local governments, in collaboration with socio-cultural organizations, organize Holi Song competitions before the festival; they give prizes to the winners on the eve before burning the effigy of Sammat, ‘Sammat Jalana’ (burning the Samvat – ending year). The next day, Nagar Bhraman is held where singing and dancing Mandalis go on procession round the village breaking Matkis tied on ropes high on the roads and streets. Local police helps in controlling the traffic during the processions.

Holi Melas are organized in the afternoon, where dozens of cultural groups coming from different parts of the region gather at a common venue to sing Dhamar and play with colours. Young and old, men and women, rich and poor, leaned and non-learned, all become one. Foods and sweets are distributed free to people attending the Melas.

Sweets and visits are exchanged; several types of drinks are prepared and served liberally, particularly, Bhang. People forget all enmity and embrace each other with warmth and love and renew their friendship and love for the whole year.

In India, this festival is also celebrated as Spring Festival. Started on Vasant Panchami, spring season reaches its peak on Holi day, the fortieth day of Spring, a season of sixty days, when the whole nature exuberates with blossoming flowers, fruits and birds and animals in rut. In such an atmosphere of happiness, love and exuberating, how can man remain indifferent? So, he also finds it important to join nature and enjoy the Spring Festival. People sing and dance to show their feeling of happiness, love and sharing.

It is also said that Holi is the festival of ‘Shashya Shyamalta’, that is, the festival of abundance. The agricultural revolution brought by King Prithu during his rule in India, resulted in a surplus production of cereals. These are roasted on the eve at a public place known as Holak and then, the food is distributed among Hindu folks gathered around the bonfire. Thus, Holi is celebrated as ‘Harvest Festival’ in India. This tradition has continued till the present day.

There are several mythological stories added to this festival. The story of Prahlad, his father Hiranyakashipu and his aunt Holika, is the most popular. Prahlad, a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu, refused to accept his father, Hiranyakashipu, a human, as God. This made Hiranyakashipu very angry. He made many attempts to kill Prahlad, but in vain. At last, he asked his sister, Holika, who had a boon that she would never be destroyed by fire, took Prahlad in her lap and sat on wooden pyre to burn him to ash, Instead, she perished in the fire herself and Prahlad was saved by the grace of God.

It depicts ‘the victory of good over bad’. Hence, the tradition of Holika Dahan on the eve and the tradition of celebrating Holi, the next day, started and perpetuated till now.