Holi is one of the many Hindu religious festivals that are celebrated across India with zeal and enthusiasm. Known as the festival of colour welcoming the season of spring, it falls in the month of Phalgun on a full moon day according to the lunar calendar (on the Gregorian calendar this day falls either in February or March), typically marking the end of winter and the beginning of warmer days, signifying the start of a new and happy phase.
Though celebrated by people across the country, it is known by different names in different states. For example, in some states it is given names such as shimga or dolayatra.
There are innumerable legends associated with the origin of this festival. A more popular one concerns the demon Hiranyakashyap who was an ambitious and ruthless king. To attain supreme power over his land and people the King wanted to be regarded as God and worshipped as such. Unfortunately for him, his own son, Pralhad refused to follow such orders and disobeyed his father. He was a fervent devotee of Lord Vishnu and so gave his allegiance and utmost devotion only to his lord. The proud king was not happy with his son’s behaviour and decided to punish him. He ordered his sister Holika to jump into a fire with Prahlad. Holika had a special gift whereby she did not get affected by fire. In order to obey her brother and satisfy her own sinister thoughts, she did not take heed of the fact that her gift was only good so long as she was to enter the fire by her self. As Holika entered the fire with young Prahlad whose devotion towards Lord Vishnu saved him. Holika instead was burnt to ashes. This was seen as a triumph of good over evil.
Other accounts include the story of Lord Shiva-Parvati and Madan or Kaamdeva, the God of love. Madan was requested by the Gods to make Shiva fall in love with Parvati. However, Madan’s attempt failed and Shiva got so angry that he immolated him.
Another account concerns the mischievous young Lord Krishna and his childhood sweetheart Radha. It is believed that in conversation with his mother Lord Krishna once quizzed her on why he was so dark while his friends, including his closest and most liked friend Radha, were so pretty and fair. His mother replied that he could colour Radha and all his other friends any hue that he wished. So Lord Krishna decided to do just that and set off to visit his favourite Gopi (milkmaid) Radha and her friends in Barsana, a little village in the district of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. The women were not happy about this and decided to chase him away from their village with the help of wooden sticks – Lath Mar. So what started off as a harmless prank soon became a tradition which evolved into the celebration of Holi. Even today, Mathura and the little village of Barsana comes alive at the time of Holi and the tradition of Lath Mar is followed.
Irrespective of what the origins of this festival really were or the variety of ways that it is celebrated – one truth remains…Holi is the expression of the sheer joy of life and the overwhelming spirit of acceptance and togetherness.
Author: Haridini Hirlekar-Simson Photographs © Kumar Mangwani Web editing: Ulka Athale Source: Heritage India, Volume 2 Issue 2 (2009)