Holi is a traditional Hindu festival that celebrates the beginning of spring as well as the triumph of good over evil.
It is best known around the world for the powder that revellers throw on each other, leaving festival goers coated in colour by the end of the day. Although the festival originated in India and is still widely celebrated there as a religious festival, it has been adopted in many places around the world.
Long before water balloons and pichkaaris, Holi was only an idea- an idea that transpired to become one of the most amusing festivals of the world. Yes, Holi is the festival of colours. But what does colour symbolize here? We are never certain. But we always hope that colouring something gives life to it. And thereby, perhaps Holi is the celebration of life itself. Holi accolades life, love, its vitality, its passion.
There are stories that date back the origin of Holi and recounts tales in mythology that trace the advent of our attempt at painting the human race more colourful. Maybe they are true, maybe they aren’t. But the essence of colour compels us to shun our logical minds in the hope of a dreamy world full of rainbows.
Holi’s different celebrations come from various Hindu legends. One story tells the story of how the god Vishnu saved his follower Prahlada from a pyre while Prahlada’s evil aunt Holika burned. The night before the Holi festival a Holika bonfire is burned to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Legend goes that Lord Vishnu had assassinated the younger brother of the demon lord, Hiranyakashipu. Apart from avenging his brother’s death, the demon king had the ulterior motive of ruling the heaven, the earth, and the underworld by defeating Vishnu. Powered by a boon granted to him, Hiranyakashipu thought he had become invincible. On his orders, his whole state started praying him, dismissing the gods. But his son, Prahalad, maintained his deity to be none but Vishnu. Angered, the tyrant king decided to kill Prahalad with the help of Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s sister, who was immune to fire. A pyre was lit and Holika sat on it, clutching Prahalad. But Prahalad emerged out of the fire unscathed, whereas Holika burned to ashes. Hiranyakashipu, too, was eventually killed by Vishnu. Even today, the story of Holika is re-enacted by actors on Holi. Bonfires across the country are lit up to celebrate the burning away of the evil spirits.
Today, anyone at Holi is fair game to be covered in the perfumed powder as a celebration of Krishna and Radha’s love, regardless of age or social status. The powder also signifies the coming of spring and all the new colours it brings to nature. 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.
Celebrated with much pomp and dignity, the Bengali “Dolyatra” marks the final celebration of a Bengali year. Dolyatra popularizes the tale of Radha and her lover, Krishna. Krishna, as a boy would drench girls with water and colours as a sport. Soon, other boys in his village started participating and somehow, it became a tradition to throw colours and water on each other on this special day. As Krishna grew, the game came to signify the colourful and eventful love story of Radha and Krishna. This tradition has transpired through ages to signify the festival of colours across the globe, with its origin solely in the Hindu mythology.
Also known as “Dol Purnima” and “Bashanta Utsav”, Holi itself is manoeuvred into several colours establishing its sense literally into our mind and soul through centuries. The coloured powder – or gulal – thrown during the festival come from the legend of Krishna, whose skin was dark blue. Worried he wouldn’t be accepted by his love Radha, he mischievously coloured her face to make her like himself.
The triumph of good over evil is a tried and tested theme resurfacing in early scriptures time and again. Holi is one such festival with the prime theme of good beating away evil. However, the meaning of the festival has undergone significant changes over centuries. Holi used to be a rite performed by married women praying for their family’s well-being where Raka, the full moon, was worshipped.