Holi The Festival of Colors

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By Anupama Nair

Mumbai, April 26

Holi is India’s favorite festival. It is also called as the “festival of colors”. Literally "Holi" signifies "burning" in Indian language the festival celebrates the eternal and divine love of Radha and Krishna. It signifies the triumph of good over evil. It originated and is predominantly celebrated in Indian Subcontinent, but has also spread to other regions of Asia and parts of the Western world through the Indian diaspora.

Holi celebrates the arrival of spring and the end of winter, the blossoming of love and for many it is a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships. The festival also celebrates the beginning of a good spring season. It lasts for a night and a day, starting on the evening of the Falgun Purnima, which is in middle of March. The first evening is known as Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi and the following day as Holi or RangwalHoli, 

Holi is an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become very popular among non-Hindus as well in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities around the world. In recent years the festival has spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colors.

Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika Dahan where people gather, perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil be destroyed the way Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, was killed in the fire. Hiranyakashipu was an evil demon, but his son Prahlad was a devotee of Bhagwan Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu tried to kill his don, but each time he is saved by Bhagwan Vishnu. He asks his sister Holika to sit in the pyre with Prahlad in her lap, but to the surprise of all, Holika who had a boon not to burned by fire, dies and Prahlad is saved again.


 The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi (Dhuleti) – a free-for-all festival of colors, where people smear each other with colors and drench each other. Water guns and water-filled balloons are also used to play and color each other. Anyone and everyone are fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children, and elders. The frolic and fight with colors occurs in the open streets, parks, outside temples and buildings. Groups carry drums and other musical instruments, go from place to place, sing and dance. People visit family, friends and foes come together to throw colored powders on each other, laugh and gossip, then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks. In the evening, people dress up and visit friends and family.

In the Braj region of India, where the Bhagwan Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated until Rang Panchmi in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as a festival of love.  As a baby, Krishna developed his characteristic dark skin color because the she-demon Putana poisoned him with her breast milk. In his youth, Krishna despaired whether the fair-skinned Radha would like him because of his dark skin color. His mother Yashoda, tired of his desperation, asks him to approach Radha and ask her to color his face in any color she wanted. Radha put colors on his face and they became a couple. From then on, the coloring of Radha and Krishna's face has been celebrated as Holi. It is also celebrated with great fervor in Mauritius too.


Days before the festival people start gathering wood and combustible materials for the bonfire in parks, community centers, near temples and other open spaces. On top of the pyre is an effigy to signify Holika who tricked Prahalad into the fire. Inside homes, people stock up on food, party drinks and festive seasonal foods such as gujiyamathrimalpuas and other regional delicacies. On the eve of Holi, typically at or after sunset, the pyre is lit, signifying Holika Dahan. The ritual symbolizes the victory of good over evil. People gather around the fire to sing and dance. This year like 2020 we are not celebrating Holi. Let Holi wipe away the evil corona.

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