Holi (referred to as Phagwa in Bhojpuri), also called the Festival of Colours, is a popular Hindu spring festival observed in India, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, the UK and Nepal. In West Bengal, it is known as Dolyatra (Doljatra) or Boshonto Utsav ("spring festival").
On the second day, known as Dhulheti, people spend the day throwing coloured powder and water at each other. The spring season, during which the weather changes, is believed to cause viral fever and cold. Thus, the playful throwing of the coloured powders has a medicinal significance: the colours are traditionally made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Āyurvedic doctors. A special drink called thandai is prepared, sometimes containing bhang (Cannabis sativa).
Rangapanchami occurs a few days later on a Panchami (fifth day of the full moon), marking the end of festivities involving colours.
In Vaishnava Theology, Hiranyakashipu is the king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after which he had demanded that he not be killed "during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or on sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra". Consequently, he grew arrogant, and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping gods and start praying to him.
Despite this, Hiranyakashipu's own son, ([Prahlada]), was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Lord Vishnu. He was poisoned but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, poisonous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu's attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre on the lap of his sister, Holika, who could not die by fire by virtue of a shawl which would prevent fire affecting the person wearing it. Prahlada readily accepted his father's orders, and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as the shawl flew from Holika, who then was burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed, after the shawl moved to cover him. The burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.
Later Lord Vishnu came in the form of a Narasimha (who is half-man and half-lion) and killed Hiranyakashipu at dusk (which was neither day nor night), on the steps of the porch of his house (which was neither inside the house nor outside) by restraining him on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth) and mauling him with his claws (which are neither astra nor shastra).
In Vrindavan and Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna). Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the gopis here. Krishna is believed to have complained to his mother about the contrast between his dark colour and his consort Radha's fair colour. Krishna's mother decided to apply colour to Radha's face. The celebrations officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love.
There is another story about the origin of Holi. Kamadeva is a god of love. Kama's body was destroyed when he shot his weapon at Shiva in order to disrupt his penance and help Parvati to marry Shiva. Shiva then opened his third eye, the gaze of which was so powerful that Kama's body was reduced to ashes. For the sake of Kama's wife Rati (passion), Shiva restored him, but only as a mental image, representing the true emotional and mental state of love rather than physical lust. The Holi bonfire is believed to be celebrated in commemoration of this event.
Holi is a festival of radiance (Teja) in the universe. During this festival, different waves of radiance traverse the universe, thereby creating various colours that nourish and complement the function of respective elements in the atmosphere
Rituals of Holi
Dol Purnima (Rang Panchami), the festival of colour is celebrated all over the country with great festivity and joy. On this day, people come out wearing pure white clothes and gather together in a common place where they play it with gay abandon.
In Nepal, Holi is regarded as one of the greatest festivals, as important as Dashain (also known as Dushera in India) and Tihar or Dipawali (also known as Diwali in India). As more than 80% of people in Nepal are Hindus, most of the Hindu festival is celebrated as the national festival and almost everyone celebrates it regardless of the religion i.e. even Muslims and Christians celebrate it. The day of Holi is also one of the national holiday in Nepal. People walk down their neighbourhoods to celebrate Holi by exchanging colours and throwing and splashing water to each other. One of the most famous activities is throwing water balloon to each other also called Lola(meaning water balloon). Also a lot of people mix 'bhang' in their drinks and food as done in Shivaratri. It is believed that the combination of different colours played at this festival take all the sorrow away and make life even more colourful .
Punjab: Holi also known as Holla Moholla in Punjab is played on grand scale. In fact holi of Anandpur Sahib is famous all around India. Even people from abroad go to Punjab to celebrate holi in northern style.
Barsana: Barsana is the place to be at the time of Holi. Here the famous Lath mar Holi is played in the sprawling compound of the Radha Rani temple. Thousands gather to witness the Lath Mar holi when women beat up men with sticks as those on the sidelines become hysterical, sing Holi Songs and shout Sri Radhey or Sri Krishna. The Holi songs of Braj mandal are sung in pure Braj Bhasha.
Holi played at Barsana is unique in the sense that here women chase men away with sticks. Males also sing provocative songs in a bid to invite the attention of women. Women then go on the offensive and use long staves called lathis to beat men folk who protect themselves with shields.
Bihar - Holi is celebrated with the same fervour and charm in Bihar as in rest of north India. Here too, the legend of Holika is prevalent. On the eve of Phalgun Poornima, people light bonfires. They put dung cakes, wood of Araad or Redi tree and Holika tree, grains from the fresh harvest and unwanted wood leaves in the bonfire. Following the tradition people also clean their houses for the day.
At the time of Holika people assemble near the fire. The eldest member or a purohit initiates the lighting. He then smears others with colour as a mark of greeting. Next day the festival is celebrated with colours and lot of frolic.
Children and the youth take extreme delight in the festival. Though the festival is usually played with colours at some places people also enjoy playing holi with mud. Folk songs are sung at high pitch and people dance to the tune of dholak and the spirit of Holi.
Intoxicating bhang is consumed with a variety of mouth watering delicacies such as pakoras and thandai to enhance the mood of the festival.
Kolkata: In Shantiniketan the abode of Tagore celebrates Dol in a unique way. It welcome the season 'Basanta' with music and dance and early morning 'Path'. Young girls wear yellow saris and perform dance in around the 'ashram' to the song of Tagore's 'Khol dar khol'.
Bengalis celebrate Holi as Dol Yatra or the swing festival where the icons of Krishna and Radha are placed on swings and women sing devotional songs, throw colours and 'abir' on them and perform dances as devotees take turns to swing them
Traditional delicacies are prepared in advance and served while playing Dol Purnima. People visit each others houses and savor the delicious dishes, be it the famous Rossogolla or the preparation of 'Malpoa' (a dessert made of flour, milk, sugar and dry fruits). The colour, noise and entertainment that accompanies the celebration of Dol Purnima bears witness to the feelings of oneness and a sense of brotherhood and goodwill. The spring air is still cool, the water cold, but revelers make a special punch of an intoxicant called bhang, which is mixed in milk, to add to the festivities.
Gujarat: Festival of colours, Holi is celebrated with great fanfare in the Gujarat state of India. Falling on the full moon day in the month of Phalguna, Holi is a major Hindu festival and marks the agricultural season of the Rabi crop. Bonfire is also lit in the main squares of the villages, localities and colonies. People collect at the time of bonfire and celebrate the event, which is symbolic of the victory of good over evil by singing and dancing. Tribals of Gujarat celebrate Holi in great enthusiasm and dance around the fire.
Maharashtra: In Maharashtra, Holi is mainly associated with the burning of Holika. Holi Paurnima is also celebrated as Shimga. A week before the festival, youngsters go around the locality, collecting firewood and money. On the day of Holi, the firewood is arranged in a huge pile at a clearing in the locality. In the evening, the fire is lit. Every household makes an offering of sweets and a complete meal to the fire god. Puran Poli is the main delicacy and children shout " Holi re Holi puranachi poli ". Shimga is associated with the elimination of all evil. Fun of playing with colours traditionally takes place on the day of Ranga Panchami unlike North India where it is done on the second day itself.
Manipur: Manipuris in northeastern part of India celebrate Holi for six days. Introduced in the eighteenth century with Vaishnavism, it soon merged with the centuries-old festival of Yaosang. Traditionally, youths at night perform a group folk dance called 'thaabal chongba' on the full moon night of Phalgun along with folk songs and rhythmic beats of the indigenous drum. However, this moonlight party now has modern bands and fluorescent lamps and a bonfire of a thatched hut of hay and twigs is arranged. Boys have to pay money to the girls for playing 'gulal' with them. In Krishna temples, devotees sing devotional songs, perform dances and play 'gulal' wearing traditional white and yellow turbans. On the last day of the festival, large processions are taken out to the main Krishna temple near Imphal where several cultural programs are organized.
North and West India : In North India, Haryana, Maharashtra and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, a pot of buttermilk is hung high on the streets and young boys try to reach it and break it by making human pyramids while the girls try to stop them by throwing coloured water on them to commemorate the pranks of Krishna and cowherd boys to steal butter and 'gopis' trying to stop them. At this time the men soaked with colours go out in large procession to mock alert people of the Krishna who might come to steal butter in their homes. The boy who finally manages to break the pot is crowned the Holi King of the Year for that community.
At some places, there is a custom in the undivided Hindu families that the women of the families beat their brother-in-law with her sari rolled up into a rope in a mock rage as they try to drench them with colours and in turn the brother-in-law bring sweetmeats for her in the evening.
South India: Holi down south is largely an outcome of the influence of media, movies, marketing and migration. But in Kochi (Cochin) the Gujarathi and other North Indian communities based in Mattancherry celebrate Holi with original fervor. In Mattancherry area of Kochi, there are 22 different communities living together in harmony. Moreover, the Gaud Sarawat Brahmins (GSB) who speak Konkani also celebrate Holi in Cherlai area of West Kochi. They locally call it as Ukkuli in Konkani or Manjal Kuli in Malayalam. It is held around the majestic Konkani temple called Gosripuram Thirumala temple. This year Ukkuli will be celebrated on March 23, 2008 in Cherlai. In Hyderabad, Holi is celebrated with great fervor, it is celebrated over 2 days.
Kashmir: Civilians as well as the Indian security force officers celebrate Holi in Kashmir. Holi, a high-spirited festival to mark the beginning of the harvesting of the summer crop, is marked by the throwing of coloured water and powder and singing and dancing.