As children, we all enjoyed throwing colours at each other and watching the crackling bonfires associated with Holi
but do we know the relevance of this Hindu festival
? Every year, people prepare for the festival of colours and look forward to a fun day with friends and family. Foreigners are especially excited about celebrating the festival in India because of all the good vibes and happy moments associated with the festival of colours
A spring festival that celebrates the colourful beauty of nature and spirituality, as well as the triumph of good over evil, Holi
has been celebrated in India, especially in the middle and northern parts of the country, with great fervour for centuries. Recently, with people moving states and countries and settling in areas other than their home states, the festival has spread across the country and the world, and we see the fun, vibrancy, unity, and joy associated with the festival being celebrated all over the world with increasing zest.
This year, the joyous festival of colours will fall on March 8, 2023.
is celebrated on a Purnima or full moon
night in the month of Phalguna, the 12th month of the Hindu calendar. This year, Holi
will be celebrated on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. In parts of Uttar Pradesh, home to Lord Krishna and Vrindavan, the festival of Holi
is celebrated for 9 days. Further, the people in the north consider the 8 days before Holi
as Holashtak and they avoid making big decisions like buying a house, getting married, or starting a business during this time.
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Across India, most of the religious rituals of Holi
will take place on March 7, the day of Holika Dahan
, the ritualistic bonfire which destroys the demons Holika and saves Prahlad. The Holika Dahan muhurta for 2023 is from 06:24 PM to 08:51 PM. The next day, March 8, will be celebrated as the day of the colour. People across the country look forward to getting out of their houses to celebrate with friends and family while enjoying Holi. The two-day festival is seen as an occasion for the entire country to re-awaken from slumber, imposed by months’ long winter, and welcome spring in all its glory.
Historical Relevance of Holi
is one of those festivals which have been etched into the cultural landscape of Northern India from a time beyond the memory of modern human beings. Just like every other festival, there are many legends in mythology pointing to the time people started celebrating Holi.
is the festival of love and is based on the story of Krishna and Radha. Growing up in Vrindavan, Lord Krishna was admired for his dark complexion. Radha felt insecure as she couldn’t match the complexion of Krishna. In one of the first acts of its kind, Lord Krishna made Radha aware of the futility of worrying over skin complexion by making her colourful by borrowing the colours of nature. This occasion has been celebrated ever since in the form of Holi.
is a celebration of redemption and new beginnings in the story of Lord Shiva and Lord Kama. A psychologically disturbed Shiva went into a deep meditation to regain inner peace after Goddess Sati’s immolation. With Shiva in a reclusive state, problems began to appear in the world. It grew worse until the gods decided Lord Shiva had to be brought back. Only Lord Kama, the God of love, had the power to do it.
Fully aware of the risks, Lord Kama accepted the task for the sake of the greater good. He tried to evoke the desire for love inside Shiva. Instead, it evoked anger. Shiva opened his third eye and turned Lord Kama to ashes. A distraught Goddess Rati, the wife of Lord Kama, tearfully explained the situation to Shiva. Realizing the virtue in the actions of Lord Kama, Shiva brought him back to ethereal form. Then Shiva found Parvathi, who was Sati reborn and had been waiting for Shiva to come back from meditation. Shiva united with Parvathy, and balance was restored in the world.
This valiant act of Lord Kama, saving the world by sacrificing his life, and the resulting reunion of Lord Shiva with Parvati/Sati has been celebrated through Holi ever since. The re-emerging of Lord Kama after overcoming death to reach immortality represents the rise of faith and courage from the ashes of defeat and despair. This also explains the tradition of burning bonfires at the start of the festival.
Why is Holi celebrated with colours?
marks the onset of spring. Spring is the time when colours make a comeback through flowers blooming in bounty. For us humans, each colour means something. Each colour has a significance, religious or otherwise. Colours define the kind of occasion, moment, or celebration one is involved in. Colours symbolize a force in life, as does the absence of colours.
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White symbolizes purity, and it is also the colour of mourning, usually adopted by widows. Black is considered ungodly or evil. It is also relied upon to ward off evil. The ‘beauty spot’ that is put on the face of a baby to ward off evil glances is black. But Holi does not celebrate white or black; it celebrates the brightest colours in nature – mainly Red, Yellow, Blue, and Green.
Red marks matrimony. It symbolizes fertility, love, and beauty. It is customary for the wife to wear red kumkum on the peak of her forehead. Also, the red dot worn between the eyebrows symbolizes blissful matrimony. Yellow is synonymous with turmeric, which is omnipresent in auspicious functions. It is traditionally revered for its medicinal use. Even today, it is used for the treatment of inflammatory and digestive disorders. Blue is the colour of Lord Krishna. Green symbolizes new beginnings, harvests, and fertility.
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Brightly coloured powders are synonymous with Holi. Men, women, and children smear each other with colours. They use dry powder colours called “gulal”, and colours mixed with water are called “rang.”
Colours in the wind carry the message of love and happiness across society and bring people together. They celebrate the onset of spring by filling their life with the colours of joy, prosperity, happiness, and peace.
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What is the significance of Holi?
Myths and traditions aside, the festival of Holi
has great scientific significance. It is celebrated at a time when the winter season is at an end and the summer season is about to start. The temperature will be moderate at this time. These are optimal conditions for harmful bacteria in the atmosphere and in the body to grow and multiply. The ritual of burning the bonfire and going around it helps in killing these bacteria.
The splashing of colours also impacts the body. According to biologists, rubbing colours on the body is a kind of colour therapy. The colour enters the pores and strengthens the ions in the body. This gives a beautiful glow to the skin. Celebrating Holi 2023 also has the psychological effect of inducing the collective conscience of society towards effort, activity, and cooperation.
Interesting facts about Holi
Splashing colour over others is the highlight of Holi
. It provides the most recognizable images of the festival. However, few see this as an invasion of personal space. To them, it is said, ‘don’t be offended, it’s Holi!’. It has become a saying in contemporary society.
In Vrindavan and Mathura, two cities deeply affiliated with Lord Krishna, the celebration of Holi
is spread for 16 days.
In the tradition of ‘Braj Lath mar Holi’, men living in the Braj region of North India must accept whatever women do to them. One of the common acts is for women to playfully hit the men, who protect themselves with shields.
is referenced in the Vedas, Puranas, and a stone inscription from 300 BC found at Ramgarh. There are also representations of the celebration in sculptures and murals on old temple walls.
Holi is also popular for the consumption of the intoxicating drink Bhang. This ingredient is mixed into drinks and sweets and is consumed by many during the festival. Bhang is made from the leaves of the cannabis plant.
The most acclaimed and widely accepted legend of Holi
is related to prince Prahlad, his father and evil King Hiranyakshyap, and his paternal aunt Holika, from whom the festival derives its name.
was an egomaniac. He wanted to be bigger than Lord Vishnu. For this, he approached Lord Brahma. Brahma bestowed Hiranyakshyap with every power except immortality. Then Hiranyakshyap went ahead and banned the worshipping of Lord Vishnu. He forced his subjects to worship him instead.
Prince Prahlad was a devotee of Vishnu. He refused to abide by the dictatorial ruling of his father. Prahlad continued to worship Lord Vishnu openly, with no fear. This offended King Hiranyakashyap. When enticements and threats failed, the king decided to have the prince killed. He devised many schemes and scenarios to trap the prince, but Prahlad outsmarted his father every time. Growing desperate, Hiranyakashyap sought help from his sister Holika. He hinted that he might make her son the next king if Prahlad is killed.
Holika had a special cloak that was fire-proof. She met prince Prahlada and talked him into entering a bonfire with her. The cloak will protect us both, she said. Young Prahlada could not deny a loving request from his aunt. Putting his faith in Lord Vishnu, Prahlada agreed. Holika sat with the prince in her lap and wrapped the cloak around her. The fire was lighted. Holika’s calculations went wrong. Instead of shielding Holika, the cloak shielded prince Prahlada. Holika got burned, while Prahlada emerged unscathed from the fire.
What is Holika Dahan?
The momentous occasion of faith triumphing over tyranny, nepotism, and deceit is since observed as Holi
. It starts with the ‘Holika Dahan
,’ where bonfires are lit, and an effigy of demoness Holika is burnt to commemorate the deliverance of Prahlad from his evil father and aunt. It is a reminder that good always triumphs over evil.
However, it is argued that Holika Dahan is actually ‘Holka’ Dahan, ‘Holka’ being the Sanskrit name for fried cereals or parched grains. These parched grains were used to perform the fire ritual. The vibhuti (sacred ashes) was smeared on the forehead of those who participated in the ritual to keep away evil. To date, there is a tradition of offering wheat and oat into the Holika fire.
The observing of Holika Dahan is also popularly called ‘Chhoti Holi
’ or the ‘Small Holi
’; the bigger Holi 2023 is the celebration of colours that follows it.
What Are the Key Points On Holika Dahan?
The preparation for Holika Dahan starts from Vasant Panchami
, about forty days before Holi. People place twigs, dried leaves, tree branches, and other natural combustibles left over from the winter that preceded around the log, which will be placed in a public place, and the heap grow to a sizable heap by Holi.
An effigy of Holika and Prahlad on her lap is kept on the heap on the day of the dahan. It is customary to make Holika’s effigy out of combustible materials and Prahlad’s effigy out of non-combustible materials. On Phalguna Purnima night, it is set alight amidst the chanting of Rakshoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda to ward off all evil spirits.
The next morning the ashes from the bonfire are collected as prasad and smeared on the limbs of the body. Fire symbolizes the destruction of evil and the triumph of good. However, the heat from the fire is also a symbol of the summer heat, which is set to take over from the cold harshness of the winter. This year, let go of all your sorrows as you celebrate Holi, the festival of colours
, with joy and fervour.