Holi, the festival of colours is one of the most widely celebrated festivities in India. The festival is widely known around the world, and the festival becomes the picture perfect image of the big, bold and colourful landscape which India is. It is a time when people welcome spring, splash colours upon each other and come together as a community. Holi is a festival which has been portrayed in innumerable films, pictures and even in the Coldplay ft. Beyonce music video for Hymn for the Weekend shot in Varanasi.
Before we don our whites and step outside to get soaked in every colour there is, let us take some time out to know more about various interesting myths, tales and legends surrounding this joyous festival.
The festival marks the beginning of Spring and is a celebration for the same. The ancient festival is traced all the way back to the fourth century and is found mentioned in the verses of a poem. In the seventh century Sanskrit play “Ratnavali” written by Indian emperor Harsha, one can find the festivities of Holi be mentioned in great detail.
Throwing colors on one another is only one part of the festival of Holi. On the night before, dung and wood are lit in a symbolic image to commemorate the demise of the demoness, Holika. The event is called Holika Dahan. On the second day, people throw the colored powder over each other to celebrate the occasion. Preparations for the same begin early by purchasing the powders and colors ahead of time. Water guns are bought which are used to throw colored water at one another.
The festival of Holi derives its name from the name Holika, demoness sister of the evil King Hiranyakashyap as told in Hindu mythology. The demon king was granted immortality along with five powers:
- Neither animals nor human beings could kill him.
- He cannot be killed indoors or outdoors.
- He cannot be killed on land, air or water.
- No projectile or handheld weapons could kill him.
- He cannot be killed during day or night.
Such immense powers turned him evil and he would kill anyone who would disobey his command. According to the legend, the wicked king attempted forbidding his son Prahlad from worshipping
Lord Vishnu, one of the Hindu Gods. Going against his father’s wishes, Prahlad persisted. Therefore, the king ordered Prahlad and Holika (who was immune to fire) to sit on a pyre which is a wooden structure used as part of a funeral. As the pyre was inflamed, Holika was burnt to ashes in spite of her immunity powers and Prahlad prevailed miraculously due to his call for help to Lord Vishnu.
Further, the legend tells us that Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of Narasimha who was halfhuman and half-lion. He met the King at the doorstep which was neither indoors not outdoors. His timing of appearance was during dusk. He placed the king on his lap, which is neither land, air or water and took the evil king’s life with his lion claws, which are neither handheld or projectile weapons.
The victory of Lord Vishnu and Prahlad over Hiranyakashyap and Holika came to represent the victory of good over evil. Therefore, Holi is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil. It reflects upon the Hindu belief that being faithful and devoted can lead one towards salvation and can be attained by anyone who believes.
Romance plays an essential role in the celebration of Holi, especially during the time of throwing colors at one anther. The practice stems from the tale of love in Hindu mythology of Radha and Krishna. The dark blue skinned Hindu God, Krishna complained to his mother, Yashoda, about
Radha’s fair complexion. In order to help her son ease his sadness, she suggested to smear Radha’s skin with paint. Legends says that this is how the smearing of colours over loved ones came to be and is practiced every year during Holi.
Each of the four main colours consists of symbolic significance. The red dyes are symbolic of love, fertility and matrimony. Blue is representative of Lord Krishna. Green signifies spring and new beginnings.
Historically, the coloured powder has been made with natural ingredients. Holi is a festival which brings everyone together on the basis of love and harmony. The throwing of colour is a fair game and celebrates love, the coming of spring and the new colours which it brings to nature.