The Holi Festival, also known as The Festival of Color, is an annual event held in primarily Hindu countries each year. Often seen celebrated in places like Nepal, India, and Bangladesh, the festival is usually held in late February or early March and marks the end of the winter season.
The Holi Fetival is incredibly important to Hindu culture. In societies where caste systems still separate people based on economic status and race, the Holi Festival is considered a time where all people can commune together, taking part in the fun and fanfare that comes with more than two weeks of colorful celebration.
The History of the Holi Festival
Formally known as Holika, it is believed that the Holi Festival has been celebrated for thousands of years – even before the existence of Christ. The festival is usually held at the end of the first lunar month of the year. In the past the festival was held after purnimanta, or the day after the full moon. In more modern times the festival has been held after amanta, or the day after the new moon.
It is believed that the first lunar month in the year marks the end of the winter season and the beginning of the spring – a time of renewal and growth. There is a great deal of mythology and legend surrounding the actual history behind the festival itself and the addition of the colorful powders and paints.
Some believe that the festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil, ad demonstrated in the late 13th century when Hiranyakashyap tried to have his son killed in a blazing fire for not worshiping him instead of the Lord. The legend of Lord Krishna, on the other hand, simply states that he began applying colors to his family and friends. The people enjoyed the colors and the tradition simply spread.
Holi Festival Traditions
There are many preparations made in the days leading up to the actual Holi Festival. If you visit a Hindu city you’ll notice residents gathering wood and leaving it at the major crossroads. This is so that the wood will be gathered for use in a bonfire when the festival begins.
During the days before the festival the vendors throughout the local markets will begin selling colorful clothing, accessories, and powders. The vibrant colors are an earmark of the Holi festival and the brightness is supposed to bring cheer to the homes and cities participating. A few people still make their own colored powders from flowers but most simply buy the powders from the markets to save time and money.
On the night before the festival the people celebrate what is known as Holia Dahn. An effigy of the sister of Hiranyakashyap, the woman who carried his son into the fire, is placed in the fire and burnt. During this time, children are encouraged to throw things at the effigy and can often be found playing pranks on family members and friends.
The next morning is the first true day of the Holi Festival – the main day of Dhuleti. During this day those celebrating Holi run about the streets having fun and playing with friends and neighbors. They spray colored water on each other with hoses or buckets, sing traditional Bollywood songs, dance to the dholak drum, and even throw simple colored powders all over the streets.
During the celebration the adults will often be seen drinking a mixture known as bhang. This potent alcoholic beverage is included for fun but visitors are cautioned to drink with caution to ensure the spirit of the festival isn’t dampened.
At the end of the day, it seems as though everyone participating in the Holi Festival is covered in a myriad of colorful powders. Even enthusiastic senior citizens come out of their homes to participate in the fun!
Celebrating an EcoFriendly Holi
Sadly, because the powders used to make the colors are no longer made from natural flowers, there have been some concerns about the toxins that could be included in commercially manufactured color pastes and powders. Some contain toxins that could cause serious health affects while others could simply stain your skin. For the safest experience, try to find natural powders made from plants to ensure your safety and the safety of those you color during Holi.
The Holi Festival marks the beginning of an incredibly fun time of year. As the winter fades away and spring flowers begin to blossom, those who believe in Holi will celebrate joyously. If you participate, you’ll never forget the fun you had at the Holi Festival!