Holi, the festival of colors, has been an annual festival to Indians several centuries before C.E. It is a spring festival that celebrates the colorful beauty of nature and spiritually, the triumph of good over evil. Though till recently limited to certain geography of Northern India, the fun, vibrancy, unity, and joy associated with the festival has seen Holi being celebrated all over the world with increasing zest. 

WHEN IS HOLI 2021 CELEBRATED?

 This grand festival stretches for a whole day and night and falls on the full moon day in the month of Falgun. It helps the collective conscience of society to re-awaken from slumber imposed by months’ long winter. The Holi 2021 festival will begin on Sunday, 28 March, and will end on Monday, 29 March.  

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WHEN DID HOLI START?

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 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 such festival, there are many legends in mythology pointing to the time people started celebrating Holi. 

 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 colorful 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 colorful by borrowing the colors of nature. This occasion has been celebrated ever since in the form of Holi. 

 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 recluse, problems began to appear in the world. It grew worse. Finally, 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 who 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.

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WHY DO WE CELEBRATE HOLI WITH COLOURS?

 Holi marks the onset of spring. Spring is the time when colors in nature make a comeback. For us humans, each color means something. Each color has a significance, religious or otherwise. Colors define the kind of occasion, moment, or celebration one is involved in. Colors symbolize a force in life, as does the absence of colors.

 White symbolizes purity. It is also a color 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 in color. But Holi does not celebrate white or black; it celebrates the brightest colors, 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 color of Lord Krishna. Green symbolizes new beginnings, harvest, and fertility.

 Brightly colored powders are synonymous with Holi. Men, women, and children smear each other with colors. They use dry powder colors called “gulal” and colors mixed with water are called “rang.” 

 Colors 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 colors of joy, prosperity, happiness, and peace.

WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CELEBRATING 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 colors also impacts the body. According to biologists, rubbing colors on the body is a kind of color therapy. The color enters the pores and strengthens the ions in the body. This gives a beautiful glow to the skin. Celebrating Holi 2021 also has the psychological effect of inducing the collective conscience of the society towards effort, activity, and cooperation. 

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 WHAT ARE SOME INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT HOLI?

 Splashing color over others is the highlight of Holi 2021. It provides for 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 over a period of 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. 

 Holi 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.

WHY IS THE FESTIVAL NAMED HOLI?

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. 

 Hiranyakshyap 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 may 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?

 This momentous occasion of the freedom 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.

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 The observing of Holika Dahan is also popularly called ‘Chhoti Holi’ or the ‘Small Holi’, the bigger Holi 2021 is the celebration of colors 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. The fire symbolizes the destruction of evil and the triumph of good. However, the heat from the fire is also a symbolism of the summer heat which is set to take over from the cold harshness of the winter that is put behind.

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