Story of Holi – a Hindu Celebration
The colorful festival of Holi is celebrated on Phalgun Purnima which comes in February end or early March. Holi festival has an ancient origin and celebrates the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘bad’. The colorful festival bridges the social gap and renew sweet relationships. On this day, people hug and wish each other ‘Happy Holi’.
Holi celebration begins with lighting up of bonfire on the Holi eve. Numerous legends & stories associated with Holi celebration makes the festival more exuberant and vivid. People rub ‘gulal’ and ‘abeer’ on each others’ faces and cheer up saying, “bura na maano Holi hai”. Holi also gives a wonderful chance to send blessings and love to dear ones wrapped in a special Holi gifts.
History of Holi
It is said that Holi existed several centuries before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the years. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped.
Calculating the Day of Holi
There are two ways of reckoning a lunar month- ‘purnimanta’ and ‘amanta’. In the former, the first day starts after the full moon; and in the latter, after the new moon. Though the amanta reckoning is more common now, the purnimanta was very much in vogue in the earlier days.
According to this purnimanta reckoning, Phalguna purnima was the last day of the year and the new year heralding the Vasanta-ritu (with spring starting from next day). Thus the full moon festival of Holika gradually became a festival of merrymaking, announcing the commencement of the spring season. This perhaps explains the other names of this festival – Vasanta-Mahotsava and Kama-Mahotsava.
Reference in Ancient Texts and Inscriptions
Besides having a detailed description in the Vedas and Puranas such as Narad Purana and Bhavishya Purana, the festival of Holi finds a mention in Jaimini Mimansa. A stone incription belonging to 300 BC found at Ramgarh in the province of Vindhya has mention of Holikotsav on it. King Harsha, too has mentioned about holikotsav in his work Ratnavali that was written during the 7th century.
The famous Muslim tourist – Ulbaruni too has mentioned about holikotsav in his historical memories. Other Muslim writers of that period have mentioned, that holikotsav were not only celebrated by the Hindus but also by the Muslims.
Reference in Ancient Paintings and Murals
The festival of Holi also finds a reference in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century panel sculpted in a temple at Hampi, capital of Vijayanagar, shows a joyous scene of Holi. The painting depicts a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids waiting with syringes or pichkaris to drench the Royal couple in coloured water.
A 16th century Ahmednagar painting is on the theme of Vasanta Ragini – spring song or music. It shows a royal couple sitting on a grand swing, while maidens are playing music and spraying colors with pichkaris.
There are a lot of other paintings and murals in the temples of medieval India which provide a pictoral description of Holi. For instance, a Mewar painting (circa 1755) shows the Maharana with his courtiers. While the ruler is bestowing gifts on some people, a merry dance is on, and in the center is a tank filled with colored water. Also, a Bundi miniature shows a king seated on a tusker and from a balcony above some damsels are showering gulal (colored powders) on him.
Legends and Mythology
In some parts of India, specially in Bengal and Orissa, Holi Purnima is also celebrated as the birthday of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (A.D. 1486-1533). However, the literal meaning of the word ‘Holi’ is ‘burning’. There are various legends to explain the meaning of this word, most prominent of all is the legend associated with demon king Hiranyakashyap.
Hiranyakashyap wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. Hiaranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.
Legend of Lord Krishna is also associated with play with colors as the Lord started the tradition of play with colours by applying colour on his beloved Radha and other gopis. Gradually, the play gained popularity with the people and became a tradition.
There are also a few other legends associated with the festival – like the legend of Shiva and Kaamadeva and those of Ogress Dhundhi and Pootana. All depict triumph of good over evil – lending a philosophy to the festival.
Days before the festival people start gathering wood for the lighting of the bonfire called Holika at the major crossroads of the city. This ensures that at the time of the actual celebration a huge pile of wood is collected.
Holika Dahan Celebrations
Then on the eve of Holi, Holika Dahan takes place. Effigy of Holika, the devil minded sister of demon King Hiranyakashyap is placed in the wood and burnt. For, Holika tried to kill Hiranyakashyap’s son Prahlad, an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of a true devotee.
Children also hurl abuses at Holika and pray pranks, as if they still try to chase away Dhundhi who once troubled little ones in the Kingdom of Prithu. Some people also take embers from the fire to their homes to rekindle their own domestic fires.
Play of Colors
Next day, is of course the main day of Holi celebrations. The day is called Dhuleti
and it is on this day that the actual play of colours take place. There is no tradition of holding puja and is meant for pure enjoyment.
The tradition of playing colours is particularly rampant in north India and even in that region, there can be no comparison to the Holi of Mathura and Vrindavan. In Maharashtra and Gujarat too Holi is celebrated with lot of enthusiasm and fun.
People take extreme delight in spraying colour water on each other with pichkaris or pouring buckets and buckets of it. Singing Bollywood Holi numbers and dancing on the beat of dholak is also a part of the tradition. Amidst all this activity people relish gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other traditional Holi delicacies with great joy.
Drinks, specially thandai laced with bhang is also an intrinsic part of the Holi festivity. Bhang helps to further enhance the spirit of the occasion but if taken in excess it might dampen it also. So caution should be taken while consuming it.
Holi Celebrations in South India
In south India, however, people follow the tradition of worshiping Kaamadeva, the love god of Indian mythology. People have faith in the legend which speak about the great sacrifice of Kaamadeva when he shot his love arrow on Lord Shiva to break his meditation and evoke his interest in worldly affairs.
After, an eventful and funfilled day people become a little sober in the evening and greet friends and relatives by visiting them and exchange sweets. Holi special get togethers are also organised by various cultural organisations to generate harmony and brotherhood in the society.
Nowhere it is celebrated with so much charm and enthusiasm as in Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana and Nandgaon – the places associated with the birth and childhood of Lord Krishna. At Barsana Holi assumes the name of Lathmaar Holi. Here, women of Barsana give a tough time to men of Nandgaon as they come to play Holi with them. Women drag the unlucky captives, beat them, dress them in a female attire – yet all is in the spirit of Holi.
Women of Haryana, specifically the bhabhis too get an upper hand on the day as they get a social sanction to beat their devars and take a sweet revenge for all the mischiefs they have played on them. This revengeful tradition is called the Dulandi Holi.
The most enjoyable tradition of Holi, of course, apart from the play of colours is the tradition of breaking the pot. It is celebrated with much fan fair in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Here a pot of buttermilk is hung high on the streets. Men form a huge human pyramid and one on the top breaks the pot with his head. All this while women keep singing Holi folk songs and throwing buckets and buckets of water. The tradition has its roots in the mischievous nature of Lord Krishna who was so fond of butter milk that he used to steal it from every accessible house in the village. To hide the butter from young Krishna, womenfolk used to hang it high. All in vain!
Holi is celebrated in the most dignified manner in the state of Bengal. At Vishwa Bharti University, founded by Rabindranath Tagore founded the tradition of celebrating Holi as ‘Basant Utsav’ or ‘Spring Festival’. Students decorate the campus with intricate rangolis and carry out prabhat pheris in the morning. Clad in a traditional attire young boys and girls sing songs composed by Gurudev and present an enchanting view to the onlookers who gather in large number here. In other parts of Bengal, Holi is celebrated as Dol Yatra where the idols of Radha and Krishna are placed on a decorated palanquin and taken out in a procession.
For Sikhs, Holi calls for the display of their physical strength and military prowess as they gather at Anandpur Sahib a day after Holi to celebrate Hola Mohalla. The tradition was started by the tenth and last guru of Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh ji and is being religiously carried forward.
In the north east, Manipuris celebrate the festival in a colourful manner for six continuous days. Here, the centuries old Yaosang Festival of Manipur amalgated with Holi with the introduction of Vaishnavism in the eighteenth century. The highlight of the festival here is a special Manipuri dance, called ‘Thabal Chongba’.
Well, there are many-many more ways in which Holi is celebrated. Different states, different cities and different villages have come out with their unique and innovative styles of playing Holi. It may not be possible to describe all of them at one place. What is noteworthy though is the fact that the spirit of Holi remains the same throughout. It is the festival which generates the spirit of brotherhood and bring people close – and this is what matters most than anything else.
What enhances the spirit of Holi though is the tradition of consuming the intoxicating bhang. It is generally consumed with thandai or as pakoras. People go high on it and enjoy the festival to the hilt. Other Holi delicacies include gujiya, mathri, malpua, puranpoli, dahi badas, etc. After a frenzied play of colours people love to gorge them up.
What is remarkable is the faith of millions of Hindus in these legends. They relive these stories every year and bring to life the incidents which occurred (or might not have occurred) thousands of years ago.
A belief in the legends, devotion to god and a strong belief in the fact that it is the good and the truth that ultimately prevails over the evil pulls the people to religiously follow the set traditions each year.
And, this faith – in god and the ancient traditions is what still binds the people in a spirit of love and harmony in this otherwise divided society.
Most Popular Legends of Holi
- Holika Dahan Date & Timing: Holi is the festival of great importance in Indian cultures. It is celebrated with great fervor every year. This time 24th March, 2016 is the date for the Holi celebration in India…More
- The Legend of Holika and Prahlad: Legend goes back to the time of demon king Hiranyakashyap who planned to kill his son Prahlad for he worshiped Lord Naarayana… more
- The Legend of Radha and Krishna: Lord Krishna as a young child was jealous of his beloved Radha’s extremely fair complexion as he himself was very dark. He therefore… more
- The Legend of Kaamadeva: The legend narrates the sacrifice of Kaamadeva for the benefit of the world. The god of love shot his arrow on Lord Shiva to bring him… more
- The Legend of Dhundhi: There lived an ogress called Dhundhi in the kingdom of Prithu who used to trouble children till they chased her away by playing pranks on her… more
- The Legend of Pootana: Lord Krishna’s devil uncle, Kansa seeked the help of ogress Pootana to kill the infant Krishna. Pootana treacherously fed Krishna with her poisoned… more