Holi is a festival of colors, celebrated primarily in India. The festival falls on the last full moon day of Falgun according to Hindu calendar. It is celebrated sometime in the month of March, usually in the latter half of the month. According to mythology, the festival is celebrates the killing Holika, the sister of Hrinyakashyapu. The festival also holds significance with respect to end of winter season and the onset of summer season.
There are certain rituals that are associated with the festival of Holi. A day before Holi, a bright bonfire is lit. It is referred to as Holika or Chhoti Holi. It symbolizes the triumph of good over evil. Mythology states that when Prahlad disobeyed the orders of Hrinyakashyapu and kept praying for Lord Vishnu, Hrinyakashyapu took the help of her sister, Holika, to kill him. Holika took Prahlad in her lap and sat in a bonfire as she had immunity against fire. However, to everyone’s amazement, Holika was burnt alive while Prahlad was unaffected. Thus, Holika Dahan is celebrated a day before Holi.
All the people participate to light the fire. A pot of new barley seeds is kept under the pyre. When the fire burns out, these seeds are consumed by the people. Often predictions are made about the future harvest on the basis of the condition of seeds or the direction of the flames. The ashes of this fire are considered very auspicious and often either the ashes or the smoldering fragments of wood are taken back home. They light their fires at home with these embers and keep the ashes which they believe will protect them against diseases.
There is no comprehensive data to know the origins of the festival. However, Holi as we see it today is believed to have originated in Bengal, where the day was celebrated as Gaudiya Vaishnava festival. However, there are several mythological stories behind the origins of the festival. The festival is also believed to be a celebration of Radha’s undying love for Lord Krishna. Still another mythological tale states that when Lord Shiva destroyed Kamadeva, he later resurrected him for the sake of his wife Rati. However, Kamadeva was brought to life only as a mental image. The festival is believed to celebrate that event.
The festival is celebrated in different ways around the country, the most famous one being in Mathura. Here, the festival lasts for 16 days, and is primarily played with flowers. Parties are often organized across the length and breadth of the country where people dance to music and greet each other with colors. Sweets are an important part of the festival.
On the day of the festival, the air is filled with gulal and abeer of various colors. Youngsters apply it on each other and on the feet of the elders of the family. Pichkaris of various shapes and sizes crowd the markets. The sight of everybody pouring color on each other and whole heartedly participating in the mirth makes a perfect picture of happiness. Gujiya, mathri, laddoos are consumed in plenty on the occasion of Holi. Bhang or Cannabis is also consumed by the people. On the banks of the River Ganges, people sit drenched in colors and prepare thandai with the cannabis and this has a very intoxicating effect. The fun is indeed unlimited.