Just as Diwali has been dubbed the “festival if lights”, Holi has come to be known as the “festival of colors” because on this day, people celebrate by throwing colored powder and water on each other, build a bonfire, and have a jolly time all the while- festive and colorful, right?
As a person who likes to know the “why” of things, I began my questioning. The question on the forefront of my mind about Holi was: Why do we celebrate Holi? And furthermore, why do we celebrate it with throwing colored powder on each other? On any normal day, this activity would be seen as nothing but a ridiculous and irritating mess. However, on this one day, it is encouraged and celebrated. I must be missing something.
What is Holi?
Holi is an Indian festival celebrated by all Hindus- regardless of region or caste. It occurs during the first day of the Hindu calendar month, phalgun. On the English calendar, this is the first day of the full moon in early March.
It is a celebration to usher in all of the beauty and abundance of spring and fertility. The word, “Holi” is derived from the word “hola” which is an offering of thanks and appreciation for a good harvest. In that way, it is similar to the American holiday, Thanksgiving.
Hol is also a celebration of unity; it is a day in which everyone is treated as equals or friends and the barriers of caste and gender are dropped.
Holi is a truly beautiful holiday because of it’s universal qualities- it’s message can be celebrated by all people, Hindu or not.
How and Why is Holi celebrated?
There are a few customs that are done to celebrate Holi.
*The most well known is the light-hearted game of throwing colors on everyone to celebrate. This is used as way to overcome barriers usually keep people from interacting, such as caste or even gender. Brahmans will interact with untouchables while women and men may feel freer to interact in a less formal, even flirtatious manner. On Holi, these differences are set aside and everybody celebrates as friends; it is a wonderful celebration of unity and brotherhood. Often, water balloons and the like will also be thrown into the celebration.
Color throwing is also connected to the Hindu mythological story of Radha and Krishna. Krishna was known as quite a prankster (and quite a flirt), and he would often play jokes on Radha and her friends (gopis). One story tells of how Krishna put color on Radha’s face to even out the difference between her fair complexion and his dark one. This turned into a larger prank of throwing colored powder over all of the gopis, and today has become a part of how we celebrate Holi.
*Another custom that is practiced is to make a bonfire. This is a way of welcoming in the spring and its bounty. However, this practice is also closely tied to another Hindu mythological story, Prahalad.
The story is about a young boy, Prahalad, who is born into the world as a great devotee of the god Vishnu and the son of the demon king, Hiranya Kashipu. The king tried to turn his son to the “dark side”, but Prahalad stayed true to his devotion and who he was. Furious that his son has turned out to be his enemy, Hiranya decided his son must be killed. The king called on his sister, Holica, who possessed a cloak that would keep her safe from all fire. She walked Prahalad into a great bonfire, but instead of perishing, the cloak was lifted off of Holika onto the shoulders of Prahalad. It is a story praising the qualities of integrity and devotion. The name Holi descends from Holica and the bonfire lit for the holiday represents good trumping evil.
*Pranksters love Holi. In fact, Holi often has an April Fool’s type of feel to it as people often plan mischief and jokes to play on others. This may have to do with the well known parnkster, Krishna, however there is also tied to the myth of a very powerful female monster called, Dundhi. Dundhi almost invincible in every way, was susceptible to abuse, teasing and pranks due to a curse by Shiva. It is said that she was chased out of town by the pranks of boys who lived in the kingdom she terrorized.
All in all, Holi is a time to have fun and celebrate with no inhibition or worries. It is a festival honoring happiness, unity and nature, simply put, Holi is really cool.
Also,check out these amazing photos of Holi: