The ancient Holi festival of India, also known as 'The Festival of Colours' and 'The Festival of Love,' is taking place today! The festival traditionally marks the last day of the year in the Indian calendar and the full moon, known as Phalguna Purnima. The celebrations continue to the next day, marking the beginning of the New Year and the welcoming of spring, referred to as Vasanta-ritu.
Today, Holi is recognised worldwide for the joyous and vibrant colours thrown during its celebration. This tradition stems from the legend of the Indian god, Lord Krishna, and his soul mate Radha. Krishna had been jealous of Radha’s skin and complained to his mother, who recommended he apply colour to Radha’s face to his liking. The playful act gained popularity and is still used in Holi festivals today. Inspired by the legend, the colours are now seen as an expression of love.
Holi also has roots in the legend of the demon King Hiranyakashyap. When his son, Prahlad, worshiped Lord Naarayana and not his father, the King commanded the boy be sent into a blazing fire. The demon King’s sister, Holika, was to carry his son, knowing she could survive doing so. Her blessing, however, only worked when entering fires alone. Holika met her fate and Prahlad survived for his devotion to Lord Naarayana. This, among other legends, depicts another central theme of the festival; the triumph of good over evil.
Can you tell us a little bit about Holi and why it is celebrated?
Dhara: Holi is a traditional Hindu Festival, celebrates the beginning of spring and takes place over two days. It is a celebration of fertility, color, love, dancing, singing, and throwing of powder paint and colored water as well as the triumph of good over evil. Holi is one of the major festivals of India and is the most vibrant of all. Holi is split into two events: Holika Dahan and Rangwali Holi.
Holika Dahan takes place the night before Rangwali Holi. Wood and dung-cakes are burned in a symbolic pyre to signify good defeating evil. Numerous legends and stories associated with Holi celebration makes the festival more exuberant and vivid. The most popular one is related to the killing of Holika. The story centers around an arrogant king who wanted everyone in his kingdom to worship him. But his son Prahlad refused and worshipped Lord Vishnu instead. He attempts to kill his son but fails each time. Finally, the king’s sister Holika who is said to be immune to burning sits with the boy in a huge fire. However, the prince Prahlada emerges unscathed, while his aunt burns to death. Holi commemorates this event from mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation.
Rangwali Holi - Shops and offices remain closed for the day. In the morning, people gather in public spaces and take part in Rangwali Holi. This is a raucous affair where people chase each other around, throwing handfuls of coloured powders (known as gulal & abeer) at one another, while getting drenched in water. Children take special delight in spraying colours on one another with their pichkaris( a sort of water gun) and throwing water balloons. Women and senior citizen form groups called tolis and move in colonies – applying colours and exchanging greetings. Songs, dance on the rhythm of dholak and mouthwatering Holi delicacies are the other highlights of the day.
Historically, the gulal was made of turmeric, paste and flower extracts, but today synthetic versions are largely used. The four main powder colours are used to represent different things. Red reflects love and fertility, blue is the colour of Krishna, yellow is the colour of turmeric and green symbolises spring and new beginnings.
How do you usually celebrate Holi?
Ascetics: Holi is known as festival of colors and joy. We celebrate holi because this day in past a bad soul was burnt in fire and a good soul came alive from that. Due to that we celebrate holi and believe that we should burner bury all our bad things or habits and take out all our goods habit. So on first day we do bonfire and next day we play with colors
Has covid affected how you will celebrate this year?
Ascetics: Yes, covid will definitely impact the celebration
Dhara: Covid does has affected the celebration of Holi. We cannot greet and meet our loved ones. We cannot play the holi as we used to before. Will miss all the charm, playfulness, spirit and delicacies of the Holi.
Are there any traditional Holi celebrations?
Dhara: In India, different cities and states have their unique traditions and ways of observing this day.
Krishna Leela at Mathura and Vrindavan; Holi has a special significance in the cities of Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna and Vrindavan, the place where he was raised. Here, unlike the rest of the country, Holi is associated with this supreme deity and his many legends. People in these cities believe that the festival was initiated by Lord Krishna and consequently the various temples dedicated to this deity celebrate the festival, each on a different day. The well-known Krishna Leela or Raas Leela, the dramatization of Krishna courting the beautiful Radha, his paramour, are played out and people throw buckets full of flowers and dry colours on one another amidst loud chants of Radhe Radhe.
Lath Maar Holi in Barsane; Barsane is a small town about 50 kilometres north of Mathura and also associated with Lord Krishna. Here, the festival of Holi is celebrated in a very unique fashion. Referred to as the lath maar Holi, for the use of a lath or bamboo stick by the women, the act of colouring one another takes on a very coquettish form here with men rushing towards women to drench them in coloured water and women staving their efforts with the use of these handy laths. The festivities here are as much fun to watch as they are to partake in.
Do you eat any special food for Holi?
Ascetics: Yes we make many different traditional food items at home specially for holi
Dhara: There are a few delicacies for holi festival:
- Gujiyas - Native to Rajasthan, gujiyas are sweet dumplings made of maida or flour and filled with a delightful khoya and dry fruits mixture. The festive favourite in different tastes
- 2.Malpuas - Malpua is a traditional Indian sweet, it is a pancake like Indian dessert, fried in ghee and dipped in sugar syrup. Popularly made on various festivals like Diwali and Holi, Malpua has delicate flavours, made easy with simple ingredients. From the traditional recipe to one with a healthy ingredients, we have it all!
- 3.Bhaang ki Pakori - Bhaang is a popular intoxicating drink prepared during the festival of Holi. According to legend, bhaang is considered to be an auspicious drink which was consumed by Lord Shiva. Give your Holi soiree an extra kick with these high spirited treats. Serve them with a home-made bhaang ki chutney to give an extra kick.
- Thandai - A popular Holi staple - thandai! It is a fennel-fragrant concoction that has a natural cooling effect on the body. Welcome your guests to aroma of this traditional blend. You can make it before, store and serve whenever.
- Puran Poli - A burst of flavors through the delicious Puran Polis is something you cannot miss. This delectable dish is easy to make and is light as well as scrumptious. Stuffed with chana dal and sugar, it’s sweet and savory flavor will entice you and everyone who takes a bite.
What is your favourite thing about Holi?
Ascetics: My favorite thing about holi is that it is festival of colors and joy which every person enjoys and celebrate together be they are of any color, caste, religion or nationality And their is not difference of high or low, upper or lower, rich or poor, owner or worker. All celebrate this together and enjoy in vibes of colors
Thank you to Dhara for sending us these fabulous photos of her and her family & friends enjoying previous Holi celebrations. We wish a very Happy Holi to all of our wonderful artisans in India!