The festival of Holi is celebrated on Phalgun Purnima which usually falls in February end or early March. Holi is an ancient festival of India and was originally known as ‘Holika’.
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 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 (spring). 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 inscription belonging to 300 BC found at Ramgarh in the province of Vindhya has a mention of Holikotsav on it. King Harsha, too has mentioned about holikotsav in his work Ratnavali that was written during the 7th century.
Significance of Holi
The literal meaning of the word ‘Holi’ is ‘burning’. There are various aspects of Holi which makes it significant to our lives. Though they might not be so apparent, a closer look and a little thought will reveal the significance of Holi in more ways than meets the eyes. Ranging from socio-cultural, religious to biological there is every reason why we must heartily enjoy the festival and cherish the reasons for its celebrations.
Mythological: Holi gets us close to our religion and our mythology as it is essentially the celebration of various legends associated with the festival.
Foremost is the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. The legend says there once lived a devil and powerful king, Hiranyakshyap who considered himself to be god and wanted everybody to worship him. To his great ire, his son, Prahlad began to worship Lord Vishnu. To get rid of his son, Hiranyakshyap asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap, as she had a boon to enter a fire unscathed. Prahlad was saved for his extreme devotion for Vishnu, while Holika paid a price for her sinister desire. The tradition of burning Holika or the ‘Holika dahan’ comes mainly from this legend.
Holi also celebrates the legend of Radha and Krishna which describes the extreme delight Krishna took in applying color on Radha and other gopis. This prank of Krishna later became a trend and a part of the Holi festivities.
Mythology also states that Holi is the celebration of death of ogress Pootana who tried to kill infant,Krishna by feeding him poisonous milk. Also, popular is the legend of ogress Dhundhi who used to trouble children in the kingdom of Raghu and was ultimately chased away by the pranks of the children on the day of Holi. Showing their belief in the legend, children till date play pranks and hurl abuses at the time of Holika Dahan.
Another legend of Holi which is extremely popular in Southern India is that of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva, considered the god of passion. According to the legend, people in the south celebrate the sacrifice of Kaamadeva who risked his life to revoke Lord Shiva from meditation and save the world.
Cultural: Celebration of the various legends associated with Holi reassure people of the power of truth as the moral of all these legends is the ultimate victory of good over evil. The legend of Hiranyakashyap and Prahlad also points to the fact that extreme devotion to god pays as god always takes his true devotee in his shelter.
All these legends help the people to follow a good conduct in their lives and believe in the virtue of being truthful. Holi also helps the people to believe in the virtue of being truthful and honest and also to fight away the evil.
Besides Holi is celebrated at a time of the year when the fields are in full bloom and people are expecting a good harvest. This gives a people a reason to rejoice, make merry and submerge themselves in the spirit of Holi.
Social: Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the secular fabric of the country as a significant number of non-Hindus also as everybody like to be a part of such a colorful and joyous festival.
Also, the tradition of the Holi is that even the enemies turn friends on Holi and forget any feeling of hardship that may be present. Besides, on this day people do not differentiate between the rich and poor and everybody celebrate the festival together with a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood.
In the evening people visit friends and relatives and exchange gifts, sweets and greetings. This helps in revitalizing relationships and strengthening emotional bonds between people.
Biological: It is interesting to note that the festival of Holi is significant for our lives and body in many other ways than providing joy and fun. We also need to thank our forefathers who started the trend of celebrating Holi at such a scientifically accurate time. And, also for incorporating so much fun in the festival.
As Holi comes at a time of the year when people have a tendency to feel sleepy and lazy. This is natural for the body to experiences some tardiness due to the change from the cold to the heat in the atmosphere. To counteract this tardiness of the body, people sing loudly or even speak loudly. Their movements are brisk and their music is loud. All of this helps to rejuvenate the system of the human body.
At the same time, the colors, when sprayed on the body have a great impact on it. Biologists believe the liquid dye or Abeer penetrates the body and enters into the pores. It has the effect of strengthening the ions in the body and adds health and beauty to it.
There is yet another scientific reason for celebrating the Holi, this however pertains to the tradition of Holika Dahan.
The mutation period of winter and spring induces the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere as well as in the body.
When Holika is burnt, temperature rises to about 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Following the tradition when people perform Parikrima (circumambulation or going around) around the fire, the heat from the fire kills the bacteria in the body thus, cleansing it.
The way Holi is celebrated in south, the festival also promotes good health. The day after the burning of Holika, people put ash (Vibhuti) on their forehead and they would mix Chandan (sandalwood paste) with the young leaves and flowers of the mango tree and consume it to promote good health.
Some also believe that play with colors help to promote good health as colors are said to have great impact on our body and our health. Doctors in the West are said to believe that for a healthy body, colors too have an important place besides the other vital elements. Deficiency of a particular color in our body causes ailment, which can be cured only after supplementing the body with that particular color.
People also clean-up their houses on Holi which helps in clearing up the dust and mess in the house and get rid of mosquitoes and others pests. A clean house generally makes the residents feel good and generate positive energies.
Rituals of Holi
Rituals of the ancient festival of Holi are religiously followed every year with care and enthusiasm.Days before the festival people start gathering wood for the lighting of the bonfire called Holika at the major crossroads of the city. Then on the eve of Holi, Holika Dahan takes place. An effigy of Holika, the devil minded sister of demon King Hiranyakashyap is placed in the wood and burnt. As Holika tried to kill Hiranyakashyap’s son Prahlad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, the ritual symbolizes 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.
The day after the Holika Dahan is of course the main day of Holi celebrations. Known as Dhuleti, it is on this day that the actual play of colors take place. There is no tradition of performing any religious activity on this day, and is meant for pure enjoyment.
The tradition of playing colors 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 colored water on each other with pichkaris or buckets.
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. Holi
Tradition of Holi
Holi is celebrated by different names in different part of India and the traditions followed vary from state to state.
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, the festival is known as 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 – all in the spirit of Holi.
Women of Haryana, specifically the bhabhis (sister-in-laws) get an upper hand on the day as they get a social sanction to beat their devars (younger brother-in-laws) and take a sweet revenge for all the mischiefs they have played on them. This revengeful tradition is called the Dulandi Holi.
Holi is celebrated in the most dignified manner in the state of Bengal. At Vishwa Bharti University, founded by Rabindranath Tagore Holi is celebrated 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. 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, Guru Gobind Singh ji and is being religiously carried forward.
In the north east, Manipuris celebrate the festival in a colorful manner for six continuous days. Here, the centuries old Yaosang Festival of Manipur amalgamated with Holi with the introduction of Vaishnavism in the eighteenth century. The highlight of the festival is a special Manipuri dance called ‘Thabal Chongba’.
Although different states, cities and villages have come out with their unique and innovative styles of playing Holi, it is noteworthy that the spirit of the festival remains the same throughout. It is the festival which generates the spirit of brotherhood and brings people close – and this is what matters most than anything else.