Holi is an ancient and national traditional festival at the beginning of spring in India, where people welcome spring and the new year with joyful colors.
Holi is an ancient festival closely related to Indian history and mythology. The celebration is full of collective energy and passion and is usually held over two days. In some countries like India and Nepal, Holi is an official holiday and is considered a national holiday.
Holi is a colorful and beautiful festival that attracts many tourists every year, and people use the festival as an opportunity to see and be seen.
What is Holi?
Holi is a joyous festival of colors celebrated every year by Hindus worldwide. This festival is called “Doliatra” in the language of West Bengal. Holi is the last festival of the year in the Bengali calendar.
Holi is a festival to welcome spring. At the end of winter, people throw water and colored powders at each other. This celebration has attracted more attention in recent years because of the joy and color it brings. At the festival of Holi, people remove rust from everything and make old things new. Holi is an opportunity to examine relationships and strengthen emotional bonds. In ancient texts, this festival is also mentioned as a festival related to achieving a good harvest, and some believe that the celebration of Holi was widespread among all Aryans. Still, with time, it was limited to the Indian subcontinent.
Holi is celebrated irrespective of social hierarchy, such as class, gender, age, and social status. During the Holi festival, idols of the Indian deities Krishna (God of Love) and Radha (Radhika, Krishna’s lover) are also placed in the streets, and songs are sung to them. People try to appear at this festival in old clothes and smear their skin and hair so that the colors can be removed more easily.
During the Holi celebration, which lasts one night and one day from sunset to the full moon (Purnima), people build bonfires, sprinkle each other with colored powder and watch each other with water guns and water balloons. Another group marches in the street with drums and instruments, singing and dancing. Ultimately, they gather with friends and families and eat exceptional food for this celebration. Holi celebrations are full of excitement and celebration.
History of Holi
The festival of Holi has its roots in Indian mythology and is celebrated in different parts of India with various rituals. Many believe that the origin of this festival lies in the legend of Hiranakashipu, the demon king of ancient India. Vishnu and Hiranakashipu killed his brother and wanted to take revenge and take power to rule heaven and earth; Because of this, he ordered the people to accept him instead of the gods and dismissed the gods. Hiranakashipu’s only son Praladha disobeyed and faithfully worshiped Bhinsa.
Hiranyakashipu conspired to kill his son with the help of his sister Holika. Holika had clothes that protected her from fire. So he started a fire and tried to burn Pralad. But instead of protecting her, the clothes protected by Prahlad and Holika were burning. That night Vishnu killed Hiranyakashipu. This story is called the victory of Good over Evil. In many parts of India, building a big bonfire the night before Holi and burning away evil spirits is customary. Even today, actors perform this story on Holi.
Elsewhere, the primary origin of this festival is related to the relationship between Krishna and Radha. It is believed that the Hindu god Krishna, considered the earthly manifestation of Vishnu, was in love with his servant Radha, whose dark blue skin, compared to Radha’s white skin, made him uncomfortable; For this reason, while playing with him and the other servants, he used to paint their faces. Many people believe that the origin of these colors in Holi is the same and that the collective happiness comes from Krishna’s humor and play.
The colors used in this festival in the past come from nature. For example, green is made from spring leaves, red from rose or apple tree bark, purple from grapes, and brown from dried tea or maple leaves. The existence of a natural origin for the color does not harm the environment. However, time passed, and industrial paints replaced these natural colors in the 19th century. The use of these colors has severe consequences for human health and the environment due to the presence of heavy metal compounds. These powdery colors can contaminate sewage and water supply networks.
Today, when environmental awareness is spreading, the festival takes place in the lap of nature; however, to prevent severe damage, environmentalists encourage and promote the production of powder paints in the traditional way and introduce different and simpler ways to prepare these paints.
Holi celebration in ancient texts, inscriptions, and paintings
There are descriptions of the Holi festival in Hindu scriptures, such as the Vedas and the Puranas. An inscribed stone dated 300 BC was found at Ramgarh, in the Vindhya region, and tells the story of Holika. King Harsha also mentions Holika in a book called Ratnavali, which dates back to the 7th century.
Abu Rihan Biruni mentioned the festival of Holi in his memoirs, and other contemporary writers said that Hindus and Muslims celebrated this festival. Traces of Holi celebrations can be found on the wall carvings of ancient temples. A 16th-century panel at the Hampi temple in the ancient ruins of the imperial capital of Vijayanagara depicts joyful scenes from the Holi festival. In this picture, the prince and his wife are standing among attendants waiting for the Holi ceremony, sprinkled with water and paint.
A 16th-century Ahmednagar painting depicts the Basant Ragini (Song of Spring Music) with a royal couple seated on a swing, maidens playing music, and drawing with pitch fours. These paintings are only a tiny part of the artworks associated with the ancient celebration of Holi.
Beliefs and stories about Holi
There are various stories and beliefs about the origin and reason for Holi. Some of these stories are related to stories told in history and Hindu religious books. Next, we discuss some of these stories.
The Hiranyakashipu Epic and the Killing of Prahlada
After killing Hiranyakashipu’s brother, known as the great demon king Vinsa, he worshiped Brahma for a long time. This worship earned him special attention and support from Brahma. Thanks to his patronage, Hiranyakashipu died only under exceptional circumstances. Any animal or man never killed him. Hiranyakashipa cannot be killed outside or inside the house. No one on earth, in the air, day or night, could kill him. Finally, no projectile or weapon of war could harm Hiranyakashipa.
Brahma’s support and sense of immortality and power made him proud, To the extent that he saw himself in the position of gods and considered anyone who disobeyed him worthy of death. Hiranyakashipu made people worship him. Meanwhile, his son Prahlada still worshiped Vinsha faithfully, leading Hiranyakasipu to plot his death with the help of his sister Holika.
Holika brought Prahlada to the center of the fire with a cloak that protected him from the fire, But instead of safeguarding Holika, the cover caught Prahlada and saved his life. This awakened Vinshu, and he appeared to Hiranyakashipu in the body of Narasimha, half human, and half lion, in the evening somewhere between earth and sky and killed him with his claws. The transmissions say that Vinshu can appear in 9 different bodies, and Narasimha was one of them.
Many believe Holi is named after Holika, and the burning of fire on this day also originates from this event.
Love of Dark Krishna and Radha
Krishna is one of the famous forms and bodies in which Vishnu appears. In many stories, Krishna is said to have a blue face. Some accounts say that Krishna’s blue face is from his youth. As a child, his mother, Putana, tried to poison him with her milk, so Krishna’s skin color changed.
Krishna loves a girl named Radha, But she worries that she won’t be accepted because of her skin color; So, he tries to get closer to her by designing a game and painting her face, and a romance develops between them. Some believe that the celebration of Holi is a romantic event and the splash of color on Radha’s face.
Celebrating the return of the God of Love
Kamadeva is known as the God of love. The word kama-deva itself also means love or love of God. There are many stories about his birth. Some believe that he was born from the will of Brahma, but others believe that he is the son of Krishna and Rukmini, But the role she played between Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati says that Kamadeva is the goddess of love.
After his wife Sati threw herself into the fire and died, Shiva went deep meditation. Meanwhile, Parvati Devi asked the gods to be her partner. Shiva’s seclusion had created problems, and the gods rushed to Kamadeva’s aid.
To change the situation, Kamadeva happily shot his love arrow to break Shiva’s meditation. This enraged Shiva; his third eye opened, and Kamadeva was reduced to ashes. This incident was a terrible event for the God of love, and his wife destroyed Rithy, who meditated and prayed for 40 days. After this time, at the requests of several Ratis, Siva’s anger subsided, and Kamadeva was pardoned and revived. Princess Bhavarati also got his love. Hindus believe Holi is celebrated after 40 days to mark the return of the God of love.
Holi is celebrated in which countries?
Holi is celebrated in many countries of the Indian subcontinent, But it is essential in Nepal and India. In these countries, this holiday is considered a national event, and they put it on the calendar. This festival knows no borders and barriers, and wherever Indian people are in the world, they celebrate Holi with fun and joy. They play with colors and light fire called Holika and commemorate the victory over evil. Like all similar festivals, Holi is an opportunity to break away from everyday life, bring people together, and create intimacy and compassion.
Holi festival in India
Different states of India celebrate Holi in different ways. One of the most famous states is the state of Gujarat in the west of this country. In this state, the festival of Holi is celebrated for two days, and on the evening of the first day, they gather together, make a big fire, and pour raw corn and coconut into it. On the second day, color powder and water are mixed and sprinkled on each other. In one of the coastal cities of Gujarat called Dwarka, Holi is celebrated in the Dwarkadish temple with musical and comedy ceremonies.
Indian people have many beliefs and customs that perform some of these rituals during the Holi festival. Among these ceremonies, we can mention the smashing of milk bottles on the walls. The boys try to make a human pyramid and, with their help, reach the oil can and smash it, while the girls try to stop them by pouring paint and water. If a boy in the crowd succeeds in breaking the bottle, he is called the Holi King, and the rest of the boys go around the town, warning everyone that Krishna may appear and steal their goblet of butter.
Another Indian state that celebrates Holi with unique traditions is the state of Uttar Pradesh. In this state, near the city of Mathura, a festival known as ‘Lat Mar Holi’ is held before the festival’s primary day. This ceremony is also performed in two other cities of this state: Barsana and Nandgaon. Lat Mar Holi is a Holi celebration where people are beaten with sticks. The historical origin of this festival is known in the story related to Krishna. It is said that he visits Rada in the village where he lives and plays pranks on Rada and his friends. Krishna’s joke distracts them, and the women beat him with sticks.
Many men travel to Uttar Pradesh on Holi every year to beat women with sticks. After winning the men, the women capture one of them and make him dance around town in women’s clothing.
Another Indian state that celebrates Holi more elaborately is the state of Vrindavan. In this region, this celebration continues for 16 days. For 11 days for the Holi festival, people throw small and colorful flowers in crowds and sprinkle powdered colors at a temple called Banke Bihari.
India’s Shantiniketan state also hosts Holi every year, and Holi is celebrated at the city’s leading universities. During the Holi celebration, students wear yellow and put on a captivating performance with music, dance, and color play. In Shantiniketan state, Holi is also known as Basanta Utsav.
Holi in Nepal is also considered a national holiday and is one of the country’s leading festivals. This festival is celebrated in the month of Phagun in Nepal’s official calendar. Nepali people, like other countries, go out on the streets during the Holi celebrations, throw paint at each other, and throw tulip balls filled with water and color. Other Nepali people, like Buddhists, also participate in this festival.
Apart from the Indian subcontinent, Holi is also celebrated in other countries such as Singapore, Australia, Mauritius, Canada, Guyana, European countries, and South American countries.
Holi celebration time (2023)
Holi, or the beginning of spring, is celebrated in the Hindu calendar in March and April. This festival is celebrated on different dates every year. This year, Wednesday, March 8, equivalent to March 17, 2023, marks Holi and the day before the Holika Dahan ceremony.
Holi celebration ritual
The most important part of celebrating Holi is the superimposed color scheme. The celebration will take place over two days. But like any other festival, people plan their day. Preparation of colors and food: Preparing the house for viewing, visiting, and changing the house before the celebration takes a lot of time. Some people make new clothes for the festival to see with new clothes and makeup.
Holika Dahan, on the day before Holi, is the destroyer of Holika’s demons. People set large fires in public places such as parks and open spaces near temples. These bonfires were intended to consume evil spirits and dispel darkness. People gather around the fire and pray together and perform their rituals. Conducting the Holika Dahan ceremony symbolizes the victory of good over evil forces. At the end of the ceremony, some people carry the remains of the fire to clean the house.
play of colors
The second day is the most exciting part of the Holi festival, also known as Rangavali Holi or Dhuleti. Today, people come out into the streets, and all the roads are packed. Most people mix the powdered form with water to get the most out of it. There is a place full of mischief and camaraderie; everyone tries throwing someone in paint or spray paint buckets. On the second day, some sing songs, dance, and try to bring the others.
After the color game, some people go home and prepare to watch and go, while some stay and clean up the color from the color. The evening party on the second day is an integral part of the Holi celebration; Because one of the goals of this holiday is to eliminate hatred and strengthen relations. Holi provides a beautiful opportunity to restore and renew friendships and family ties.
Holi festival food
Like many festivals, food and drinks are essential to the program, and Holi also has drinks and food. One of the drinks associated with Holi is Thandai. Tandai is made from watermelon seeds, melon, almonds, lotus stem seeds, cashews, and aromatic plants such as cardamom, fennel, rose, white pepper, and saffron, along with sugar and water. This drink can be a lifesaver during the Holi celebration and restore lost energy.
Another sweet and nutritious food that can provide energy to your body during the festival is a type of sweet dumpling called gujiya. They dip a dumpling-like dough in fried oil and sweet nectar to make it. Then they pour nuts like pistachios and almonds on it. They sometimes use flavorings like cardamom or decorate it with coconut powder to make it taste better.
Porridge is another sweet food of India; The difference between Indian porridge and Iranian porridge is that rice or quinoa grains can be seen inside. In addition to these seeds, nuts, milk, sugar, saffron, and cardamom are also used in porridge.
Bani Puri is another delicious and attractive Indian food served during Holi. This food has a hollow and thin dough that becomes crispy and delicious after being fried completely, and you can fill it with various Indian spices, pepper, potato, and onion.
Dal soup (Tarka dal) is an authentic Indian food made from red lentils, turmeric, butter, cumin, garlic cloves, and green pepper. When this food is fully cooked, it can be served as puree. There is also a light snack called Mathri on Holi, made from flour, water, and cumin. In addition to all the mentioned foods, there are various snacks and nutrition in the Holi celebration.