Holi or the festival of colours is one of the major Hindu festivals in India. In some states of India it is declared a holiday. It is very popular in the northern India although the trend of playing Holi is now catching up in the south of India and amidst the non- Hindus as well.
Like most of the Hindu festivals, Holi is celebrated on the full moon called Phalguna Purnima. As per the Gregorian Calendar it occurs sometime between the end of February and the beginning of March. It corresponds to the approach of vernal equinox announcing the arrival of spring season. So it is also called basant utsav.
The eve of Holi is known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika). It demands as much attention and preparation as the day of Holi. On this day, bonfires are lit, which consists of gathered wood, cast away household items and other combustible materials, in open spaces in neighbourhood such as near temples, parks, spacious open grounds, road side etc. People assemble around the bonfire to sing, dance and recount mythological stories to children. The most well known of all stories, is the story of bhakta Prahlad and Holika. The demon Hirankashyapu, the father and brother respectively of the two had banned everyone from worshiping Lord Vishnu. But Prahlad disobeys his father and receives several death punishments. On each occasion he is saved by Lord Vishnu who finally kills Holika and the demon Hirankashyapu. Each region of India has its own stories and rituals with symbolic messages which may vary from each other.
On the day of Holi people smear and pour colours on each other. Traditionally, washable colours were prepared from the extracts of flowers, leaves, and roots with medicinal properties such as neem, turmeric, kumkum, sandalwood, palash, beetroot, etc. But today these organic and natural products are expensive and even hard to procure. Most commonly used are chemical based products which are harmful to skin and are often not easily washed off from the body. Colours materials are used in dry and wet forms.
At home, people stock up abeer / gulal (dry powder colours) and other water based colours along with Holi delicacies apart from the famous sweet malpuas. As the celebration of the festival is outdoor, after breakfast young and old in small groups, called toil, visit home to home wearing old, preferably white dress to wish and exchange colours & Holi delicacies in their neighbourhood. Some form groups to sing and dance and have bhang. The air is filled with dry powdered colours and roads are wet with coloured waters. “Holi hai! Holi hai!” are the words of the day. Post noon, faces of people are totally covered in myriad of colours and are virtually unrecognizable. In the evening when people are clean after a shower and a rest they visit their kith & kin and friends wearing new dresses carrying sweets and savouries.
Holi scenes have special and memorable association in the Bollywood movies. Songs and dialogues related to Holi are remembered even today.
Holi is also a time to unleash one’s creativity. Kavi Samelan or poets’ meet and other cultural activities & competition are specially organised around Holi in colonies and clubs.
In Pondicherry, Holi is a recent addition to festivity. JIPMER is one of the old locations where it is celebrated with much fanfare. Of late even some restaurants organise it privately for their guests serving organic colours, bhang and thandai.
Like all the major Hindu festivals Holi signifies the victory of good over evil, change of season and a day to meet people to share, play and laugh. It is also a time to renew and strengthen relationships. In 2014, Holi is being celebrated on 17th March.
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