Tejaswita Mohan

By Tejaswita Mohan

The festival of Holi is celebrated on the day after the full moon in the month of phagun every year.

Originally a festival to celebrate good harvests and fertility of the land, Holi is now a symbolic commemoration of a legend from Hindu Mythology. The story centers on an arrogant king Hiranyakashyap who resented his son Prahlad worshipping Lord Vishnu. He attempted to kill his son but failed many times. Finally, the king’s sister Holika who was said to be immune to burning sat with the boy in a huge fire. However, the prince Prahlad emerged unscathed, while his aunt burned to death. Holika dahan’ commemorates this event from mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation. The festival’s preamble begins on the night of the full moon. Bonfires are lit on street corners to cleanse the air of evil spirits and bad vibes, and to symbolize the destruction of the wicked Holika, for whom the festival was named.

Mostly it is celebrated by applying gulal (a red coloured powder) on friends and foes alike. In fact people take this opportunity to end their differences. Nowadays the coloured powders have taken many hues like orange, yellow, green, purple, blue to even metallic. Kids throw water filled balloons at each other. Friends get together and roam on the streets for hours throwing colours at each and gorging on sweets and savouries alike.

Although Holi is observed all over the country, it’s celebrated with special joy and zest in the northern parts. Each area celebrates the festival differently.

In Bengal, it is called Dol Yatra, or spring festival. Traditionally the festival is celebrated with idols of Krishna and Radha placed on swings and devotees take turns to swing them. Women dance around the swing and sing devotional songs, as men spray coloured water and coloured powder called abeer. Later processions are taken out with bands and with faces and bodies covered with Holi colours. Nobel laureate  and poet Rabindranath Tagore introduced Basanta Utsav in the school at Shantiniketan, the seat of learning that he founded. The Basanta Utsav literally means spring festival. Orissa follows traditions similar to those of Bengal, the only difference being that idols of Lord Jagannath replace Lord Krishna and Radha. This is probably because the famous Jagannath Temple of Puri is situated in Orissa. And “Jagannath”, meaning ‘the Lord of the Universe’, is yet another name of Krishna.

Holi in Mathura is celebrated for over a week. Being a city of temples, each day of the week it is celebrated in a different temple. Holi in ‘Banke Bihari ‘Temple in Vrindavan is considered sacred. Holi is also celebrated as ‘Gulal-Kund’ in Braj, a lake near the Govardhan hill. At this sacred site tourists and pilgrims drench themselves in colour. The men-folk of Nandgaon and the women-folk of Barsana, which is the birth place of Radha, come together and play the ‘Latthmaar Holi’in which the women beat  men with sticks and the men try to avoid with their shields. It is all done playfully and with much merriment.

In Maharashtra  the festival is known as Rangapanchami and  it is celebrated with dancing and singing.In Gujarat the vibrantly colourful Bhagoria festival coincides with Holi which attracts hundreds of tourists to partake in the festivities.

The Sikhs also celebrate Holi but call it Hola Mohalla. And like the rest of the country the festivities are marked with feasting and merriment. The farmers play Holi with great joy in celebration of new harvest and offer their first crop to Agnidev – the god of Fire.

Holi is not celebrated with much intensity in southern India. But people do indulge in merrymaking. The legend of Kamdev is quite prevalent in this part of the nation. The folk songs narrate the tragic story of Kamdev and Rati and it is considered as a festival of love.

In years that followed these historic events, Holi acquired a new significance. But mostly,Holi is an excuse for people to shed inhibitions and caste differences for a day of spring fever and Big Fun.