The festival of Holi symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It also marks the advent of spring and people celebrate it joyously with a splash of color. It is the most boisterous of all Hindu festivals, observed all over India, especially the North. It heralds the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The night before the full moon, crowds of people gather together and light huge bonfires to burn the residual dried leaves and twigs of the winter. People throw colored water with pichkaari (a traditional device to spray colored water from a distance keeping oneself safe), gubbare (balloons filled with water to throw on others from a distance) and gulal (colored powder) at each other and make merry. Singing and dancing add to the gaiety of the occasion.
In the northern, western and eastern regions, Holi celebrates the joyful raasleela of Krishna and the gopis. Holi, also known as phag, is a joyous celebration of the rejuvenation of nature and renewed hope of happiness and peaceful coexistence. Especially famous is the lathmaar Holi of Barsana and Nandgaon. In Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, Sikhs celebrate a special festival called Hola Mohalla on the day after Holi. It marks a display of ancient martial arts and mock battles. Holi is also an occasion for the celebration of the burning of Kama, the Hindu equivalent of cupid, with the fire that emanated from Lord Shiva’s third eye.
As nature blooms in a celebration of color, the people of India join the celebration with the festival of Holi, one of the most vibrant festivals in the Hindu calendar. People celebrate this festival of colors joyously with friends and relatives, rubbing gulal and throwing colored water on each other. On this day, people come out wearing pure white clothes and gather together in a common place where they play Holi with gay abandon. The magic of playing with color, which begins early in the morning, continues through the day. Traditional delicacies are prepared in advance and served while playing Holi. Families, friends, and neighbors get together to enjoy this festival of colors. 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.
The Holi celebrations match the mood of the nature and the riot of colors matches the flowers in full bloom. Earlier, the colored powders used for playing Holi used to be made from flowers, roots and herbs that worked as softener for the winter-dried skin but now synthetic ingredients are used for the purpose. The bonfire lit on the eve of Holi is said to cleanse the surrounding atmosphere. Special sweets called gujia are made which are very popular. Even though Holi is celebrated differently in different parts of the country, the essential message is the same-victory of good over evil.
In Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, this day is celebrated with special puja and the traditional custom of worshipping Lord Krishna. Later the usual celebrations take place and pilgrims from all over the country and abroad take part in the celebrations.The breaking of the Matki, an earthen pot, is also an important part of the celebration especially in the northern part of the country.
This festival has its roots in the story of Hiranya Kashipu. He was a king in the ancient times, who got a boon from Lord Shiva that nobody could kill him. After being granted the boon, the king insisted that his subjects replace their prayers of ‘Om Narayana Namaha’ (Salutations to Vishnu) with ‘Om Hiranya Kashipu Namaha’ (Salutations to Hiranya Kashipu). While all of his subjects complied, his son Prahlad objected to this. Angered, Hiranya Kashipu put Prahlad through many tests but the child always emerged the winner. One such occasion was when Hiranya Kashipu set fire to Prahlad who was seated in Hiranya Kashipu’s sister, Holika’s lap. Although Holika had the boon that fire could cause her no harm, she was the one who died in the fire and little Prahlad was not hurt at all. To celebrate this victory of good over evil, Holi is celebrated.
Another myth associated with the festival of Holi is related to Lord Shiva, the destroyer in the Hindu pantheon and his consort Parvati. It is believed that Parvati tried hard to attract Shiva to her so that he would agree to marry her. However, the Mahayogi paid no attention to her, which made Parvati desolate. At this point, Kama, the Hindu god of love decided to help her. But as he shot his floral arrow of love, Shiva opened his third eye of destruction and burnt Kama. Later Parvati brought Kama back to life and the day Kama breathed again is celebrated as Holi.
The celebration of Holi draws from yet another legend of Hindu mythology. There was once a witch named Holi of Putana. She lived during the time of Lord Krishna. When the Krishna was born, his maternal uncle Kamsa was all set to kill him as a voice from heaven had announced that this child would grow up to kill him. Kamsa had ordered that all infants be killed. But Krishna got left out. So he sent Putana to kill him. Putana or Holi picked up the child from the cradle and put him to her breast, which had been smeared with poison. But the Lord knew. He bit so hard that he sucked the life out of Holi. So happy were the cowherds or Yadava tribes of Mathura on the death of the witch that they made an effigy of Putana and burnt it. This is one of the Holi rituals that is still followed in Mathura.
Being a land of diversity, Holi is celebrated differently in the different parts of India. In Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, for instance, the celebrations reach a feverish pitch as the whole town is decorated and all temples observe different ceremonies from a week before Holi. Ascetics and religious leaders come here from all over India to rejoice