Holi (Hindi: होली, Nepali: होली) is a religious spring festival celebrated by Hindus as a festival of colours.

It is primarily observed in India and Nepal. It is also observed by the minority Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan as well in countries with large Indic diaspora populations following Hinduism, such as Suriname, Malaysia, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, the United States, Mauritius, and Fiji.

Holi is also known as Phagwah (Assamese: ফাকুৱা), Festival of Colours, or Doḷajātra (Oriya: ଦୋଳଯାତ୍ରା) in Odisha, and as Dol Jatra (Bengali: দোলযাত্রা) or Basantotsav ("spring festival") (Bengali: বসন্তোৎসব) in West Bengal and Assam.

Holi is of particular significance in the Braj region, which includes locations traditionally connected to the Lord Krishna: Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandagaon, and Barsana, which become tourist destinations during the season of Holi.

As per the Hindu calendar, Holi is celebrated on the Phalgun Purnima which comes in February or March in the Gregorian Calendar.

Significance

The word Holi originated from "Holika", sister of Hiranyakashipu. The festival of Holi is celebrated because of a story in the old Hindu religion. In Vaishnavism, Hiranyakashipu is the great king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after which he had demanded that he not be killed "during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra". Consequently, he grew arrogant and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping Gods and start praising respectfully to him.

According to this belief, Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Vishnu. In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Vishnu. He was poisoned by Hiranyakashipu, but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, poisonous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu's attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre in the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu's demoness sister, who also could not die because she had a boon preventing her from being burned by fire. Prahlada readily accepted his father's orders, and prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed. The salvation of Prahlada and burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.

In Mathura, where Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi) in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love.

Description

Every year, thousands of Hindus participate in the festival Holi. The festival has many purposes. First and foremost, it celebrates the beginning of the new season, spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring's abundant colors and saying farewell to winter. It also has a religious purpose, commemorating events present in Hindu mythology. Although it is the least religious holiday, it is probably one of the most exhilarating ones in existence. During this event, participants hold a bonfire, throw colored powder at each other, and celebrate wildly.

Rangapanchami occurs a few days later on a Panchami (fifth day of the full moon), marking the end of festivities involving colors.

The main day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated by people throwing scented powder and perfume at each other. Bonfires are lit on the eve of the festival, also known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Chhoti Holi (little Holi), after which holika dahan prayers are said and praise is offered. The bonfires are lit in memory of the miraculous escape that young Prahlad accomplished when Demoness Holika, sister of Hiranyakashipu, carried him into the fire. Holika was burnt but Prahlad, a staunch devotee of god Vishnu, escaped without any injuries due to his devotion. Holika Dahan is referred to as Kama Dahanam in South India.

Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalguna (February/March), (Phalgun Purnima), which usually falls in the later part of February or March.

In most areas, Holi lasts about two days. Holi lowers (but does not remove completely) the strictness of social norms, which includes gaps between age, gender, status, and caste. Together, the rich and poor, women and men, enjoy each other’s presence on this day. No one expects polite behavior; as a result, the atmosphere is filled with excitement, fun and joy.

Though there have been references in Sanskrit texts to similar festivals, like ratnavali where people sprayed coloured waters using bamboo syringes, the origin of the modern Holi festival has been traced to ancient Bengal. It was a Gaudiya Vaishnav festival, in accordance to Vaishnaviya Tantra. People went to Krishna temples, applied red color to the icon and then distributed the red coloured powder or Abir along with malpua prasad to family and friends. Red signified the colour of passion and Lord Krishna is the king of desires. The ritual signified that all our desires should be diverted for the attainment of Krishna and for the well being of society.

In some cultures though, the ritual of burning wood and leaves on the full moon night already existed. This ritual was to signify the end of winter and full advent of spring. Old wood and leaves that had fallen were burnt to signify that it was time for new leaves and flowers. People then smeared their bodies with ash. Later, however, the story of Holika Dahan became associated with this ritual.

Rituals

The earliest textual reference to the celebration of Holi is found in the 7th century Sanskrit drama, Ratnavali. Certainly there are perennial rituals attached to Holi: the first is smearing of coloured powder on each other, and throwing coloured and scented water at each time. On the first day of this festival, Hindus participate in a public bonfire. Prior to the event, men prepare for this by collecting extra wood. The fire itself is lit near midnight, as the moon rises. The main custom of Holi is the use of the colored powders and water on others. This is why Holi is given the name “Festival of Colors.”

Regional rituals and celebrations

Holi is celebrated with much fervor here. Unlike in the other Indian communities, it is also here a school holiday. There is also a tradition followed in rural Karnataka where children collect money and wood for weeks prior to Holi, and on Kamadhana night all the wood is put together and lit. The festival is celebrated for two days. People in north Karnataka prepare special food on this day.

Holi festival is celebrated in Sirsi town with a unique folk dance which has a legend of 300 years. The folk dance called “Bedara Vesha” (Hunters Dance) is performed during the nights beginning five days before the festival day. The festival is celebrated every alternate year in the town which attracts a large crowd on all the five days from different parts of the State.Nearly 50 solo artistes perform the dance with a troupe of drum beaters, whistle blowers and the like.

In Maharashtra, Holi is mainly associated with the burning of Holika. Holi Paurnima is also celebrated as Shimga. A week before the festival, youngsters go around the community, collecting firewood and money. On the day of Holi, the firewood is arranged in a huge pile at a clearing in the locality. In the evening, the fire is lit. Every household makes an offering of a meal and dessert to the fire god. Puran Poli is the main delicacy and children shout "Holi re Holi puranachi poli". Shimga is associated with the elimination of all evil. The colour celebrations here traditionally take place on the day of Rangapanchami, 5 days after Holi, unlike in North India where it is done on the second day itself. During this festival, people are supposed to forget about any rivalries and start new healthy relations with all.

In the Mattancherry area of Kochi, there are 22 different communities living together in harmony. The Gaud Sarawat Brahmins (GSB) who speak Konkani also celebrate Holi in Cherlai area of West Kochi instead of in theior own community. It is locally called Ukkuli in Konkani or Manjal Kuli in Malayalam. It is celebrated around the Konkani temple called Gosripuram Thirumala temple. Holi is also celebrated at some colleges in south.

Holi is celebrated with fun and frolic in Andhra Pradesh. Different in the other Indian communities, The school holidays are here. There is also a tradition followed in rural Telangana region where children play kamuda and collect money, Rice, Mokkajonna and wood for weeks prior to Holi, and on Kamadhana night all the wood is put together and set on fire. The festival is celebrated for two days. In Andhra Pradesh Holi is celebrated along with Basnata Panchami. In the Telangana region and the capital city of Hyderabad, Holi is a major festival, and the festivities and colour starts appearing at least a day before the actual holiday.

Traditional Holi

The spring season, during which the weather changes, is believed to cause viral fever and cold. The playful throwing of natural coloured powders has a medicinal significance: the colours are traditionally made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Āyurvedic doctors.

Modern issues

Synthetic colors

Natural colors were used in the past to play safe Holi by applying turmeric, sandalwood paste, extracts of flowers and leaves. As the spring-blossoming trees that once supplied the colors used to celebrate Holi have become more rare, chemically produced industrial dyes have been used to take their place in almost all of urban India. Due to the commercial availability of various attractive color pigments, slowly the natural colors are replaced by synthetic colors. As a result it has caused, mild to severe symptoms of skin irritation and inflammation.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

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