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Holi, a festival of Joy, a festival of Love, a festival of Happiness. Holi festival is celebrated on Purnima (full moon) of Falgun (generally in March or sometimes in February) of the Hindu calendar. This festival is also a sign of the victory of good over the power of evil.  It is a festival when people meet each other, laugh, forget problems and forgive each other and give a new start to their relationships. Holi is one of the major festivals of India, celebrated in every state with a diversity in belief and in methods of celebration.

Photo by Tom Watkins on Unsplash

Now let’s see why Holi is celibrated and some of the Mythological stories behind the celebration of Holi:

1-The Story of Prahlada & Holika Dahan

2-Shiva Parvati and Holi

3-The Lord Krishna & Holi

4-King Prithu & Dhundi

1- The Story of Prahlada & Holika Dahan

There are many stories about the festival of Holi, but the most popular story is that of the devotee Prahlada.  The same devotee Prahlada who revolts against his father Hariyanyakashipu and believes in the power of Lord Vishnu. The story goes like this, Hariyanyakashipu was a demon king, he did austerity and got a boon from the gods that he would neither die on earth nor sky, neither die in the day nor at night, neither would be killed by weapons nor by arms, neither would die out  At home, no animal will be able to kill an animal from a male.  On receiving this boon, he began to think himself immortal and tortured, he started calling himself God and forced people to believe him to be God.  Nobody dared to speak against him.  In such a situation, his own son Prahlada, who was his son, turned against him.  It was not tolerated by Hariyankashipu. He gave many threats to Prahlada, but Lord Vishnu helped him every moment and his faith became even stronger.  Hariyanyakashipu was very much frustrated to kill his son Prahlada, in such a situation, his sister Holika says that she has a cloak or armor that could not be burnt by fire after being covered by it.  Now it was decided that Holika would sit with Prahlada on his lap and he would end up in the fire.  But here also Lord Vishnu supported him and as soon as the woods started burning a huge storm came up to Prahlada and Holika’s  armor covered Prahlada and Holika was consumed in the fire, thus this festival of Holi, as a victory of good over evil, is celebrated & at the night before the Holi, people gather around and perform Holika Dahan as a symbol of putting the evils of society in Fire.

2- Shiva Parvati and Holi

Celebrating Holi festival is related to a story of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.  The story is that Goddess Parvati, who was the daughter of the Himavant (Himalayas), started loving Lord Shiva and wants to marry him.  At the same time, Lord Shiva was always in meditation, which makes it very difficult for Goddess Parvati to express her love for Lord Shiva and to propose him for marriage.  Then Kamadeva (The God of Desire) comes to his aid and through the flower arrows to dissolve the penance of Lord Shiva.  Perhaps they did not know the result of interrupt the penance of Lord Shiva, and when Lord Shiva opened his eyes, he got very angry at this act of Kamadev and with his third eye, Lord Shiva, burn him in fire but as soon as Goddess Parvati came out, his anger came Calm down, he accepted the proposal of Goddess Parvati.  On the festival of Holi, it is believed that by celebrating the victory of the love of innocent spirit by burning your desires in fire.  However the same story is also presented from a slightly different perspective, according to which, when Kamadeva is burnt, his wife Rati worships Lord Shiva and pleases him and prays to make Kamdeva alive.  Pleased with her worship, Lord Shiva brings Kamadeva alive.  The day when all this happened is considered to be the full moon day of Phalgun month i.e. Holi.  In folk songs, songs of Rati lament are also found and it is said that sandalwood was given for the fire so that Kamadeva gets relief from the pain of burning.  It is believed that in the joy of the resurrection of Kamadeva, Holi with colors is celebrated the next day. 

3- The Lord Krishna & Holi

When we talk about Holi how can we not talk about Lord Krishna! Lord Krishna and Holi complete each other, as Lord Krishna is believed as God of Love and Holi as a festival of Love.

There are two mythological beliefs of Lord Krishna & Holi:

Putana & Bal Krishna

The story of the Vadh of demonic Putana is also associated with this festival of Holi.  It is said that Kansa decided to kill all the babies born in Gokul, after the oracle (akashvani) that the one who’ll kill Kansa has been born in Gokul.  For this work, he chose the effigy demon.  Putana breast-feeds the babies, after which the babies die but when she tries to kill Shri Krishna, Shri Krishna kills Putana.  All this is also believed to have happened on the day of Phalgun Purnima, in whose joy the festival of Holi is celebrated.

Holi,Radha Krishna and Love

None of us is unaware of the Love between Radha & Krishna & it is a belief that Holi was the biggest reason behind growing the Love between Radha & Krishna. The belief is, when Krishna drank the poisonous milk of Pootna, his complexion became blue. Kind and beautiful looking Krishna began to appear blue.  Krishna’s blondness was gone, Krishna could not accept that Radha or the Gopis would like his color or not and he distant himself from everyone because of it, after which Krishna’s mother Yashoda advised him to color Radha the same color in which he want to see her, then Krishna went to Radha and poured a lot of color on her. Since then Radha and Krishna continue to drown in love with each other, since then the festival of Love, the festival of colours, Holi is celebrated.

4- King Prithu & Dhundi

It is said that during the reign of King Prithu, there was a very powerful and clever demon named Dhundi, she was so ruthless that she used to eat even children.  She had also received the boon by doing austerities of the gods that she would not be killed by Gods, humans, weapons and, nor would she be affected by heat, cold and rain.  After this, she increased her atrocities even further. No one was getting success in killing her.  Everyone was fed up with her.  But Dhundi was also suffering from the curse of Lord Shiva.  According to this, the children could chase her out of their mischiefs and even slaughter her at the appropriate time.  When King Prithu asked the Raj Purohit for any remedy, he chose the day of Phalgun Purnima because it is neither summer nor winter nor rain.  He asked the children to gather.  While coming, they were asked to bring one wood each with them.  Then gather grass-straw and wood and chant it in a loud high voice and perform it in front of the fire.  In this way the demon can be killed by loud noises generated by laughing, singing and shouting.  According to the priest, it was done on the day of Phalgun Purnima.  In this way, the children got rid of the tyranny of Dhundi by making a big bang.  It is believed that even today, on the day of Holi, there is a belief of the children who get rid of the noise of making noise and playing back songs.

As diverse the belief is, diverse the rituals to celebrate Holi are! Different parts of India celebrate Holi differently:

1- The Lath-Maar Holi

2-The Holi of Flowers; Vrindavan

3- Fagua: Fagu Purnima of Bihar and Purvanchal

4- Bengal & Holi

5- Yosang Holi in Manipur

6- Holi of Bhils

7- Holi Raja of Gujarat

8- Rangpanchami of Maharashtra and Shimoga of Goa (Konkan)

9- Kamna Habba of Karnataka

10- Kaman Podhigai of Tamil Nadu

11- The Hola Mohalla of Punjab

12- Dhulendi of Haryana

1- The Lath-Maar Holi

AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA

Braj, the land of Radha Krishna celebrates Holi in a very unique style. As soon as Holi begins, Braj drowns into the colors. Barsana’s Lath-Maar Holi is the most famous here, as the name itself indicates how Holi is celebrated here!  Barsana is the birthplace of Radha.  Holi starts a few days before in Barsana near Mathura (Uttar Pradesh). On this day, women (Gopiyan) with sticks, beat men(Gopas) of Nandgaon who try to hoist the flag on the ‘Ladli Ji’ temple of Radha & men are supposed to avoid the women. It is said that Radha’s soul resides in all women on this day.  The ‘Hori’ is sung for mutual conversation, which is based on the conversation between Shri Krishna and Radha. Women beat men, but men are not allowed to resist them in any way.  They just have to dodge these women by spraying gulal.  If they are caught, they are beaten fiercely or they are dressed by wearing women’s clothes, adornments etc.  It is believed that in ancient times, Krishna was danced by the gopis of Barsana. The atmosphere of this Holi lasting two weeks is very fun.  One more interesting thing is the colour, colours used here are 100% natural, due to which the atmosphere here becomes very fragrant.  The same process is repeated the next day, but this time, the Women(Gopis) of Nandgaon beat mem (Gopas) of Barsana fiercely with sticks.

2- The Holi of Flowers; Vrindavan

The festival of Holi in Vrindavan begins on Ekadashi.  Holi of flowers is played in all the temples of Radha & Krishna from the day after Ekadashi.  In the Holi of flowers, a lot of flowers are collected and scattered at each other.  Between which the echo of Radhe-Radhe reminds us of Dwapara Yuga.  But the beauty of Holi in Banke Bihari temple of Vrindavan is something unique.  During this time the idol of Banke Bihari ji is kept outside the temple.  As if Banke Bihari Ji himself has come to play Holi.  Holi here lasts for seven days.  First the flowers, then gulal, Holi is played with dry colors and wet colors.

3- Fagua: Fagu Purnima of Bihar and Purvanchal

Fagu means red color and Purnima means full moon.  In Bihar, it is also known by the name of Fagua.  In Bihar and some parts of Uttar Pradesh adjoining it (mostly Purvanchal), it is celebrated as the celebration of Hindi New Year.  People congratulate each other.  Holi is celebrated for three days.  Holika Dahan on the first day at night, which is also known as Samvatsar Dahan and people dance around this fire. The next day, Holi is played from the ashes brought out of it, which is called Dhulethi and the third day is of colors.  Groups of women and men go door-to-door to dance to the dole, colour each other and eat the sweets especially Gujhiya.

4- Bengal & Holi:

Dole Purnima in Bengal

Holi dole is also celebrated in Bengal as Poornima.  During this time, one can get a glimpse of the rich culture of Bengal with colors.  On this day, people wear Basanti (Yellow) colored clothes and adorn themselves with flowers.  The dance and music program runs from the morning itself.  Sweet dishes are made in homes.  This festival is also known as Dole Jatra. On this occasion, the idols of Radha-Krishna are worshipped by the group of women one by one, the remaining women dance around it.  Throughout the festival, men throw colors at women and in turn women also colour them.

Vasant Utsav of Bengal

Guru Rabindranath Tagore started the Vasantotsav at Shanti Niketan on the day of Holi, since then it is celebrated with great pomp here.

5- Yosang Holi in Manipur

Holi lasts for a full 6 days in Manipur, which is called Yosang.  Here, in the beginning of Holi, a hut of  grasses is made as a symbol of holika and people set it to fire.  The next day the boys play Holi with the girls, in return they have to give the girl a gift. During Holi, people go to the Krishna temple wearing traditional costumes in yellow and white and perform music and dance. During this time Thabal Chonga (musical instruments) is played and boys and girls dance.  They colour each other.  The festival also aims to give boys and girls a chance to meet each other.

6- Holi of Bhils 

Holi is special for the Bhil tribals living in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.  Adult Boys are given the chance to choose their life partner as per their wish, on this day.  The way Bhils celebrate Holi is unique.  On this day, they worship mango leaves, tessu flowers and wheat earrings and pray for the beginning of a new life.

7- Holi Raja of Gujarat

On the occasion of Holi, groups of cool young men dance and sing on the streets of Gujarat.  Dahi Handis are planted in the streets at very good heights and the youths are moved to break it.  Along with curd, prizes are also hanged in these Handis.  It is inspired by the breaking of the Handis of Gopis by Shri Krishna.  In such a situation, who would not want to become a young Kanhaiya and who would not want to become Radha. So, Radharani protects the Handis by showering colors on these groups.  Whoever breaks these Handis becomes a Holi Raja. The ashes of Holika, which burn on the first day of Holi, are dedicated to Gauri Devi.

8- Rangpanchami of Maharashtra and Shimoga of Goa (Konkan)

This festival is celebrated as a festival of colors in almost all parts of Maharashtra and Konkan.  In the township of fishermen, this festival means dancing and singing.  This season is considered to be good for the wedding as all the fishermen visit each other’s houses on this festival and a lot of time is spent in fun. In Maharashtra, a sweet tasty dish called Puran Poli is made, while in Goa, carnivores and sweets are made on this occasion.  In Maharashtra, Dahi Handi program is organized on this occasion.  Prizes are also given for dahi-handi bags.  During this time, women throw colors on the hand workers from the roof of their houses.

9- Kamna Habba of Karnataka

In Karnataka, the festival of Holi is celebrated as Kamna Habba.  People there believe that on this day Lord Shiva burnt Kamadeva with his third eye.  Therefore, on this day people collect garbage, torn clothes, an open space and dedicate them to the fire.

10- Kaman Podhigai of Tamil Nadu

Holi in Tamil Nadu is dedicated to Kamadev.  There is a legend behind this as well, that Shiv-Parvati mythological story, the festival of colors is celebrated in the joy of Kamdev being alive.

 11- The Hola Mohalla of Punjab

This festival is also very popular in Punjab.  The fair that takes place next day of Holi in Anandpur Sahib, the holy shrine of Sikhs, is called Hola Mohalla.  This place of worship is very important for Sikhs.  It is said that Guru Gobind Singh (tenth Guru of Sikhs) started this fair himself.  The three-day fair showcases weapons of Sikh bravery and acts of valor.  On this day, Anandpur Sahib is decorated here and a huge langar is organized.

12- Dhulendi of Haryana

In Indian culture, a unique blend of harmony between relationships and nature is found in Haryana’s Holi.  Here Holi is celebrated as Dhulendi and people play the dry Holi of Gulal and Abir. Sisters-in-law (Bhabhis) have complete freedom on this day to punish their brothers-in-law (devar) for their mischiefs of the whole year. Bhabhis torture the Devars in various ways and the poor Devars suffer silently, because this day is the day of the Bhabhis.  In the evening the brother-in-law brings a gift for his beloved sister-in-law and the sister-in-law blesses her.  But after the gifts and blessings begin again, the process of devotion and sister-in-law’s sacred relationship and persecution of each other.  On this day, programs are also organized to break Dahi Handis.

Our ways of celebrating Holi may be different, but the purpose of celebrating Holi is one and that is to spread love and happiness. The belief behind celebrating our Holi may be different, but the message of it is not different, Holi is symbol of Victory of Good over evil, Holi is symbol of Victory of Love over anger, Holi unites us. Holi is the festival of ending the evils prevailing in the society. Holi is a symbol of love and brotherhood.  On this day, inferiority is eliminated by colouring each other. Apart from lovers, on Holi, parents-children siblings, in-laws, friends even enemies all people colour each other to strengthen their relationships. The devotee Prahlada also strengthened his devotion by applying color to Lord Vishnu and gave the message of love in all. On Holi, we should resolve that we do not do any wrong thing, all of us should live in harmony with each other with love.

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