March 28, 2021 begins the Hindu holiday of Holi or the “Festival of Colors.” Holi is celebrated as a Spring festival, and indeed in Bengali tradition, part of the holiday is actually called Basant-Utsav which in Bengali means Spring Festival. In many traditions, Holi actually begins with the lighting of bonfires on Holi Eve (for 2021, the evening of March 27). Employees, staff and students should be accommodated for religious observance.
|Colored powders used |
Holi customarily lasts three days in most Hindu traditions, although in some traditions may last up to 16 days. Holi is generally a time of boisterous celebration marked by such lack of inhibitions that people are allowed to do all sorts of things they would not normally be allowed to do. These include saying outrageous things (notably the allowable use of vulgar jokes), laughing at others, playing in puddles. Most famously, Holi is a time for celebrating with bright colors. The main means for this is with colored powder that friends and family apply to one another. It is also common to throw colored powder or squirt water colored with powder at friends, relatives and even passers-by. An expression common to Holi is the Hindi phrase Bura na mano, Holi hai. (Don’t mind this, it’s Holi).
Holi received considerable attention in Europe and the Americas when the holiday featured prominently in the popular romantic comedy Outsourced. The film was released in 2006 and had the two leads Todd Anderson (played by Josh Hamilton) and Puro (played by Asif Basra) participating in Holi activities unwillingly at first and then with great enthusiasm.
Religious Significance of Holi
Religiously, Holi is tied to the victory of Prahlad over the demon Holika, which in itself is a representation of the victory of good over evil. Holi takes its name from Holika.
|Prahalad and Holika in the fire|
While virtually all traditions of Hinduism recognize the ties of Holi to Prhalad and Holika, other traditions also tie Holi to other Hindu stories. Some worshipers associate with Holi the Kamadeva legend in which Lord Shiva opened his third eye burning up the love deity Kamadeva. For those following the Kamadeva tradition, worshipers make offerings of mango flowers and sandalwood.
The practice of throwing colored water or powder has its origins in another Hindu legend, that of the love between Lord Krishna and Radha. Lord Krishna as part of the story applied colored powder to Radha’s face. Also, since Lord Krishna played many pranks on people (including throwing colored powder on them) when he was young, the playing of pranks on Holi also is tied to this.
Some Holi Traditions
The people of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh bill themselves as the "hub of Holi." This is because Uttar Pradesh is home to the birthplace of both Lord Krishna at Nandgaon and of his beloved Radha at Barsana. Since the entire tradition of throwing colored water and powders derives from the love story of Lord Krishna and Radha, it makes sense that at Holi their birthplaces would be major centers of pilgrimage as people travel there to venerate them
|Radha and her friends striking |
Lord Krishna with lathis
Women from Radha's village of Barsana dress in traditional outfits for the holiday and carry lathis. These are long cane sticks of the same sort used in the martial arts of the same name.
|Lathmaar Holi in Barsana, Mathura|
In the state of Gujarat people have a special tradition around buttermilk based on Lord Krishna's fondness for stealing unguarded buttermilk and butter from homes. A greeting unique to Gujarat for Holi is warn people to guard their butter and milk.
|In Gujarat, boys form human pyramids |
reach a buttermilk pot and become Holi King
The title of Holi King is bestowed on the boy who is finally able to break open the pot and let the buttermilk come pooring. In some villages, this is accompanied by an actual prize, but in many others, being named Holi King is prize enough.
|The Shigmo Parade in Panaji, Goa|
includes elaborate floats of Hindu dieties
The state government of Goa funds many events for Shimgo in the capital city of Panaji. These include street dance performances, folk music and dance shows, and most importantly the Panaji Shigmo Parade with floats showing religious scenes related to the holiday. Many of the floats feature huge images of various Hindu dieties, some mechanically operated to move and gesture. The parade includes a range of participants from all castes and cultures in the state. These include people performing various regional dances, flame-throwers, acrobats, brass bands, special marchers with colored umbrellas, and people dressed as various dieties. This also includes men playing special large drums rolled on special carts and beaten from a distance with long handled sticks.
The state government of Goa sponsors Shigmo events for 14 days, including many outside of Panaji in other towns and in rural areas.
West Bengal and Bangladesh
In Bengali tradition, Holi is celebrated as Dol Purnima (or the Swing Festival) and, as mentioned above, with observance of a Basant-Utsav (or Vasanta Utsav, the Spring Festival).
The Bengal celebration of the holiday is somewhat unique in its dignifiied atmosphere in observing the holiday. In contrast to almost everywhere else in the Hindu world where Holi is celebrated with considerable abandon, for Bengal Dol's Purnima and Baasant-Utsav the atmosphere is more reserved and dignified.
|Dol Purnima Procession |
at Shntiniketan, West Bengal
|Dance performance |
at Bishwabharati University
Finally, at the end of the events, as with Holi celebrations elsewhere in India, the participants paint each other in brightly colored powders.
Nepal, the only officially Hindu nation, celebrates Holi for a full week. In Nepal, another name for the holiday is Phagu which is the name for a sacred red powder.
The chir is tied to Lord Krishna and his teasing of young women. The Nepalese tradition tells of an incident where Lord Krishna came upon a group of young women all bathing in the Yamuna River in what they thought was total privacy. The mischievous deity then hung all of their clothing high in a tree well out of their reach. Some versions of the story say that the reason the women were all bathing at once was also related to a trick of Lord Krishna, who had covered them all with colored powder.
The festival culminates at the end of the week with the dousing of each other with colored water. In Nepal, the colored water is held in lolas (a type of water balloons) that people throw at family and friends. Finally, at the close of day on the last nigh of the festival, the chir is set on fire in a communal bonfire. The burning of the cloth strips serve as offerings for good luck.
As with all of these religious observance posts, this is meant only as informational. Nothing I have written here or in any of these blogs is intended to indicate what is or is not the proper way to worship or observe traditions.
Also, while I have researched these to the best of my ability, if I have made an error, please inform me. Finally, I am aware that Holi is a varied holiday and has many traditions that were not covered here. Please feel free to add your own traditions or thoughts at the end of this blog.
Happy Holi! Holi Hai!
Want to Read More?
"Festivals of Nepal: Holi," Nepal Travel Guide: http://www.nepalhomepage.com/society/festivals/fagupurnima.html
"Holi," BBC Religions: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/holydays/holi_1.shtml
"Holi," Religion Facts.com: http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/holidays/holi.htm
"Holi," Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India: http://www.holifestival.org/
"Holi Customs," I Love India.com: http://festivals.iloveindia.com/holi/holi-customs.html
"Holi: Festival of Colours," The Colors of India: http://www.thecolorsofindia.com/holi.html
"Holi, The Festival of Colours," India Express.com: http://www.indiaexpress.com/rangoli/holi.html
"Holika Dahan -- the Bonfire or Lighting of Fire before Holi," Hindublog.com http://www.hindu-blog.com/2008/03/holika-dahan-2008-bonfire-or-lighting.html
"Shigmo in Panjim," Goacom: http://www.goacom.com/culture/religion/shigmo/
"Vasanta Utsav (or Basanta Utsab) and Holi," The Holiday Spot: http://www.theholidayspot.com/holi/vasanta_utsav.htm
Clip Art Sources
Happy Holi: http://www.wiseshe.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Happy-Holi.png.jpg
Holi colored powders: http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/holidays/holi.htm
Prahalad and Holika in the fire: http://www.hindu-blog.com/2008/03/holika-dahan-2008-bonfire-or-lighting.html
Radha and her friends beat Lord Krishna lathis: http://www.bloggermoms.com/wp-content/uploads/holi-3.jpg
Lathmaar Holi in Barsana, Mathura: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2011/20110320/nat6.jpg
Gujarat boys forming human pyramid: http://www.theholidayspot.com/holi/graphics/team.jpg
Dol Purnima Procession at Shntiniketan, West Bengal: The Holiday Spot: http://www.theholidayspot.com/holi/graphics/ghy3.jpg
Dance performance at Bishwabharati University: http://www.theholidayspot.com/holi/graphics/ghy3.jpg
Nepalese chir: http://www.nepalhomepage.com/society/festivals/fagupurnima.html
Holi Hai image: http://www.kamalascorner.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/holi-hai.jpg