The Story of Color -Origin of “Holi”

Holi, India’s colorful gift to the world, is a grand annual festival celebrated in India, Nepal and many parts of the world where Indian communities live. It is commonly known as the “Festival of color” and is a celebration of the arrival of spring. It also is the one occasion where you get to go “bananas” with colors without getting on the wrong side of your family and friends !! 😛

Anyone who is a obsessed with India and Holi knows the drill!! Apply as much color on people around you and also get as much as you can on yourself 😛  Simple and fun!!

But how many of us know the true meaning of Holi, why it is celebrated or the rituals surrounding this festival.

Holi is A Hindu festival celebrated on the full moon day of the month Phalguna (March) and celebrates the commencement of spring, a celebration of good harvest and also symbolizes the victory of good over evil.

The stories behind the start of Holi is quite interesting.

According to Indian legend once there ruled a demon king Hiranyakashipu whose sister was the evil queen Holika (Thus the name Holi). Hiranyakashipu was given a boon that made him indestructible and because of this he become power hungry and tried to define himself as a god, forcing people under him to treat him as a god. But his son Prahlada was a deep devotee of Lord Vishnu and he believed in the path of righteousness and the demon king could not bear that his own son did not obey him. And as any annoyed demon king would do he tried to torture and kill his son (sigh!). But his attempts did not harm or break the devotion of Prahlada to lord Vishnu.

When nothing worked,  Holika steps in and tricks Prahlada to sit in a pyre with her in the hopes of burning him to death.  According to one legend she was wearing a shawl that had the ability to save her from the burning fire, but not Prahlada. But as fire rose the shawl flew away from Holika and wrapped itself around Prahlada saving him and burning Holika. According to another story Holika had the ability to withstand fire when inside the pyre only if she is with someone, and when Prahlada prayed to Lord Vishnu he saved him from the fire leaving Holika alone and she was burnt to death. Thus good won over evil !!

The lighting of a bonfire as a part of the celebration, done till date is to symbolizes the burning of Holika and the triumph of good over evil. It is said that the day after the burning of Holika people applied the ashes of the bonfire on their foreheads in celebration. Even today people apply the ashes from the bonfire on their foreheads as a ritual and believe that the ashes have medicinal properties.

This festival also has a mythological connection to lord Krishna. Krishna had dark blue colored skin because of the poisonous milk that the she-demon Putana fed him as a baby. So growing up he had doubts whether Radha and the other maidens would like him because of his skin color. After hearing this his mother Yashoda asked him to go to Radha and apply any color on her face so that they would both be colored.

And thus the epic love of Lord Krishna and Radha began and so did the tradition of applying color.

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Modern day people start preparing for Holi from weeks before, they collect wood and twigs for the bonfire, buy color powder, water guns (pichkaris) and prepare food and drinks. The whole country goes in to a coma of festivity, with roadside shops popping up selling color powder and pitchkaris of all shapes and sizes, children going from home to home collecting wood and twigs for the bonfire and drummers and dancers starting to prep them self’s for the big day. The preparation of traditional delicacies such as Gujiya, malpuas, puran poli (Maharashtra) is a major part of this festival along with the preparation of Bahng the adult intoxicating drink popular among both men and women specially during Holi.

The main celebrations and rituals of Holi can change from region to region along with the number of days,but the two main events remain the same- Holi ka dahan and Rang wali Holi

Holi ka dahan

The commencement of the festival is marked by the lighting of a bonfire. This is done on the Full moon day of the Hindu month Phalguna (March). People in the neighborhood get together and clean an open area and build a bonfire with wood and twigs.

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Then at night they light it up and do puja around it, throwing oil and flowers in to it. They Sing, Dance around the fire to celebrate the arrival of spring. Then they would use the ashes of this bonfire to light up the stoves at home.

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Rang wali Holi

The day after the bonfire is the well-known color Holi,

People would get up early in the morning and get ready for the beautiful mayhem of colors. They gather in groups in open spaces to dance, sing and play Holi disregarding all  boundaries such as gender, cast and age .

Reds, blues, yellows, greens whatever color you desire is in the air surrounding you. It is as if you are wrapped around by a blanket made with every color you can find in the world. Some play with color powder and some play with liquid colors using Pichkaris. Be prepared to drench your self in color liquid and covered in powdered colors.

People used to use color powder  made from natural substances like, turmeric, kum kum or leaves. But now a days people commonly use synthetic color powders that are widely available in the market. But because of the environmental impact these synthetic powders have, there is a new tread to go back to natural colors. Also now a day’s people are encouraged to use the powder form of color to play instead of using the water solvable one  in order to save water.

Since this is a festival where people get out of their shell, let their hair down and have fun lots of pranks are played and the whole atmosphere is filled with laughter and just pure merriment.

And a bonus is you can get away with any silly prank that you do on this day (as long as it’s not dangerous), you just have to say the magical words “Bura na mano, Holi Hai!! (Don’t be angry, it’s Holi)!! specially the younger generation takes the advantage of this yearly chance to play pranks and just have pure fun! ( It’s not every day that you get to throw water at the aunties and uncles in the neighborhood and not get in to trouble 😛 )

Fun fact- In Braj India, where lord Krishna grew up Holi is celebrated for 16 days!!! And here on one day the men go around the village holding shields and ladies get to beat those shields with sticks – FUNN!!

Holi is a day to celebrate the arrival of spring, a new beginning, a day to forget and forgive. A day to have as much fun as the heart desires and a day to embrace the colors of the world. So if you’re planning to head down to India next year why not plan your trip to coincide with Holi so you can get this experience firsthand! Because trust me its a memory that you will cherish for the rest of your life !

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