The festival of colours has many legends behind it. Most importantly, though, it is one of the most fun festivals of the Hindu tradition. Holi is celebrated to welcome the season of Spring, at the approach of the vernal equinox, on the Phalgun Purnima (Full Moon). Here are a few of the traditions of Holi that make it as fun a festival as it is:
1. Holika Dahan
This tradition is connected to the legend of the demon king Hiranyakashyapu and his son Prahlad. Hiranyakashyapu wanted everyone to solely worship him. When Prahlad began to worship Lord Vishnu, he wanted to get rid of him. His sister, Holika, who had a boon to remain unscathed by fire, entered a burning pyre with Prahlad on her lap. However, Prahlad’s devotion saved him, while Holika was burnt to ashes. On the eve of Holi, a pyre is lit, signifying Holi Dahan. Raw coconut, twigs, dry leaves and other small food offerings are made to the fire. It mainly signifies the triumph of good over evil.
2. Color Play
This tradition is connected to the legend of Radha and Krishna, wherein Lord Krishna used to take immense pleasure in applying colour on the face of his beloved as well as the other Gopis, and they used to reciprocate the gesture. Mythology also states that the festival is a celebration of the death of Ogress Pootana, who tried to poison Baby Krishna while breastfeeding him. Initially, colours were made using natural ingredients such as turmeric, neem, dhak and kumkum. Today, people apply ‘gulal’ and ‘abeer’ on one another, use ‘pichkaris’ or water shooters to spray coloured water and hit each other with balloons filled with coloured water.
Another legend has it that a certain Ogress Dhundhi used to trouble children in the kingdom of Raghu. She was ultimately chased away by their pranks. People have used this legend as an excuse to make pranks into a tradition on this mischievous day of colours and play. A lot of pranks are played on one another on this day under the famous slogan ‘Buran Na Mano Holi Hai’.
Thandai’ is a drink made especially for this occasion. It is supposed to be a cooling preparation of milk to welcome the warmth of the spring season. Another drink that is consumed on this day is ‘bhang, a mild preparation of marijuana made from young leaves and stems of the Indian hemp plant, ‘cannabis sativa’, which is drunk with milk or water as a fermented brew. This has no legend attached to it. This is done simply to add to the fun of the day. In the evening, people bathe, relax and meet relatives and friends in order to exchange sweets.
Another legend about this beautiful day is that of How Kaamadeva or the God of love (the Indian Cupid) sacrificed his life to revoke Lord Shiva from meditation, make him accept Parvati as his consort and save the world. At Kaamadeva’s wife Rati’s lamentations Shiva brought him back to life. Thus, it is also the festival of love, our very own colourful version of Valentine’s Day.
This festival is also celebrated in Nepal with similar traditions. We also share this festival and its traditions with Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana (especially Georgetown), Fiji and Mauritius. They celebrate it under the name of ‘Phagwa’, which is derived from Phalgun. The colour play is accompanied by folksongs and dances, such as the ‘Phagwa’ songs or ‘Chowtaal’ (ganna) of Trinidad and Tobago. Join in the celebrations of the festival, which transcend borders and compels people to meet one another, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair ruptured relationships.