Updated: May 7, 2019
Author: Siggy Kahama
Every year in March around the world, an Indian celebration of color takes place to welcome the beginning of spring. From the outside, its vibrant and animated festivities may make the Holi festival seem light-hearted, but the foundation of Holi is based on cultural richness and deep religious beliefs. This year, Holi is March 21.
The starting period of the festival is marked by the full moon day known as Phalguna. On the first day, acknowledged as Holika Dahan, various prayers and religious rituals are performed to keep families safe from evil and in good health. This is typically done at a bonfire at sunset as to prohibit misfortune in life; The best time to perform these rituals is during Pradosh Kaal when day and night are believed to meet. The next day of the festival, the actual day of celebration, is called Holi.
Several festivities take place depending on the region in which it is celebrated. The day is most enthusiastic and eventful in regions in India such as Mathura, Barsana, Nandgaon, as theydavan, as they are associated with the birth of deity Krishna. In these locations, women usually ambush men, making them perform in various tasks such as dressing in female clothing, all in the good spirit of Holi. Other activities that take place around the world are the throwing of color powders and liquids called “Gulal” which are sometimes mixed with water.
Holi has been performed annually for centuries, and the different Holi celebrations arise from various Hindu legends. The story of Holika is widely recognized as the most likely cause for the Holi celebration. Holika is the sister of Hindu demon king Kiranyakashyap. The demon king tried to kill his son after his son devoted his faith to Lord Naraayana, but Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism and protector of the earth, continued to save him. Enraged, Kiranyakashyap asked his sister, Holika, to enter fire with his son, under the impression that she could not be burned. After entering the fire, Kiranyakashyap’s son returned unharmed as a reward from Lord Naraayana for being faithful. Holika paid the price and was burned. The name Holi is derived from the demonesses Holika's name and is a celebration of good trumping evil.
The color that is thrown is used because of the legend of Krishna. During Holi, everyone is of equal status, and all audiences get covered in paint regardless of race, age, gender or socioeconomic status in celebration of Krishna’s love. Different colors represent different things. Typical colors used are pink, blue, yellow, magenta and green. To name a few, red symbolizes matrimony, love, beauty, and fertility. Yellow symbolizes turmeric, and green marks new beginnings and harvest.
Another custom of Holi is making sizable amounts of food. After the bonfire during Holika Dahan, most people prepare feasts to enjoy with family and friends. Some of these dishes include Peshwari Naan, Spring Onion Bhaji, Papri Chaat, Chana Masala and Kachori. Drinks such as Thandai, that consist of milk, sugar, almonds and a concoction of herbs, typically accompany the food.
The spirit of Holi represents love, faith, equality, goodness and life in general. With a growing population of Indians around the world, Indian holidays continue to become more popular around the world, allowing people of all backgrounds to appreciate the richness of Indian festivals and cultures.