Holi

Holi ,also known as Dhulandi or Dhulendi,is celebrated at the end of the winter season on the last full moon day of the lunar month Phalgun (February/March).Holi is also called as Spring Festival,Basant Utsav and Vasant Utsav.

The month of Phalgun ushers India in Spring when seeds sprout, flowers bloom and the country rises from winter's slumber.Holi,is basically celebrated in the countries like India,Nepal and Sri.Lanka.It is also celebrated in UK,USA,Mauritius and Trinidada.In west Bengal and Orissa this festival is called as 'Dol Yatra'. 'Holi' comes from the word 'hola', which means offering oblation or prayer to the Almighty as showing gratitude for giving rich harvest. Holi is celebrated every year to remind people that those who love God shall be saved and they who torture the devotee of God shall be reduced to ashes a la the mythical character Holika.

The festival of Holi is a celebration of the Colors of Unity & Brotherhood,also known as festival of love.It is an opportunity to forget all differences and indulge in fun and enjoyment.It has traditionally been celebrated in high spirit without any distinction of cast, creed, color, race, status or sex.It is one occasion when sprinkling colored powder (abheer and gulal) or colored water on each other,changes the outlook completely, so that everyone looks the same and the feeling of brotherhood is created.

However the Holi festival is celebrated the most in the Braj localities ie the regions connected to the God Krishna,such as Mathura,Nandgaon,Vrindavan etc.Here the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi) in commemoration of the divine love of Radha-Krishna.

This festival has also the connection of Lord Krishna's mischivous tricks on the 'Gopis'.Krishna had complained to his mother,Yeshodamaiyya,regarding the color contrast between him and Radha.So, Krishna's mother decided to apply colour to Radha's face.Thus,the celebrations enjoyed in the spring season,is the celebrated season of love.

Rituals

On the prior day of Holi,a ritual called Holika Dahan(bonfire) is observed.For this since seven days before the people start collecting dry wood articles etc. and arrange the wood pieces,also dry branhes of trees in a pit,dug in the premises of colonies.It is then bound by a thread and coconuts are put inside the pit. Later a priest starts the puja by seating in front of the Holi pit.All the people of the colonies gather to add to the worship.Later,after the pooja rituals and mantra are completed,the wooden material with the tree branches are lit with a fire source.this is called Holika Dahan.

Sweets are distibuted to the people present and they wish each other by giving the compliments of the festival and season.Coconuts put in the Holi are taken out and the sacred water is disytributed to all as 'Prasad'.It is also practised at many places to shout offensive words in front of the flaming Holi so as to burn out all the anger and offensive words.

Till the Holi is burning,the people sing devotional songs and also perform tradional dances in groups.In some places various field games such as 'Aatya Paatya',Kho Kho,Kabaddi etc.are played through out the night and from the next day morning the festval of colors,called 'Rangpanchami' is begun.

A big tank is filled with water and different colors are mixed in to it.People gather there with their pupms(Pichkaris),suck the colored water and spray on the faces and clothes of each other.Different colorful dry powdres called 'Gulal' and 'Abheer' are also applied on the facees of each other.In the places where there are 'Braj' localities,the women hit the men with wooden sticks(lathi),which is a traditional game celebrated in large numbers.

Legends

Hiranyakashipu

Bhakta Prahlad Hiranyakashipu After a long penace,Hiranyakashipu the king of demons was granted a boon by Brahma, that he can neither be killed during day or night,nor inside the home or outside, not on earth or on sky, neither by a man nor an animal, neither by astra nor by shastra.On getting the boon he became rude and attacked the Heavens and the Earth.He commanded that people should not worship the gods and start praying to him.

Hiranyakashipu's son, Prahlad, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. In spite of threats from father, Prahlad continued worshipping Lord Vishnu. He was poisoned but the poison turned to nectar.He was put in a room with poisonous snakes,but still survived.All the attempts to kill him did not work at all.

Finally, he ordered son Prahlad to sit on a pyre on the lap of his sister,named Holika,who was protected from the fire by virtue of a shawl which would prevent fire affecting the person wearing it. Prahlad obeyed his father's orders, and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as the shawl flew away from Holika,killing her to death,while Prahlad was very safe and survived unharmed,because the shawl flew on to him and covered him.The burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.

Krishna

Krishna once asked his mother - why is Radha is fair in colour and I am not ? Mother Yashuda replied to him saying - If you are so much jealous of Her color then go and spray dark colours on her face and she will turn dark like you. Accordingly Lord Krishna acted.In memory of this incidence,the lovers put colour on their beloved and celebrate RangPanchami.

Kamdeva

Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva, set herself on fire,when her father Daksha showed displeasure to Shiva.Lord Shiva got extremely disturbed.He renounced his worldly duties and went into deep meditation.Later on,the daughter of the mountains, Parvati started her meditation to acquire Shiva as her husband. This made all the gods concerned and afraid.

The gods then approached the Lord Kamadeva, the god of love and passion,to convince Lord Shiva. Kaamadeva knew the consequences of disturbing Lord Shiva.However,for the sake of Gods' interest he accepted to shoot his arrow on Shiva and acted accordingly while Shiva was in meditation.This made Shiva extremely angry and he opened his third eye - burning Kaamadeva to ashes.

However, Kaamadeva due to the effect of the arrow,Lord Shiva married Parvati.Soon after this episode, Kaamadeva's wife, Rati pleaded Lord Shiva and said this was all the plan of the gods and asked him to to kindly revive Kaamadeva. An embodiment of love himself, Lord Shiva soon accepted to do so.Thus the incident had a happy ending for all.

It is believed that Lord Shiva burned Kamadeva to ashes on the day of Holi.The people down south India worship Kamadeva,the Love-god,for his extreme sacrifice on the day of Holi.Kamadeva is depicted with his bow of sugarcane having the string of a line of humming bees and his arrow-shafts are topped with passion that pierce the heart. The deity is offered mango blossoms that he loved and sandalwood paste to cool off the pain of his fatal burns. Songs are also song in which Rati's sorrow is depicted.Holi is known by three different names -Kaman Pandigai and Kama-Dahanam, In Tamil Nadu.

Demoness Dhundi

There was once a demoness called Dhundhi in the kingdom of Prithu.The female monster used to specially trouble little children who got annoyed of her. Dhundhi, had a special boon from Lord Shiva that she would not get killed neither by any gods, humans nor by suffer from nor from heat, cold rain or arms.These boons made her invincible. However, she had a curse of Lord Shiva that she would be in danger from boys going about crazy.

Deeply troubled by the demoness, the King of Prithu consulted his priest,who guided that - on Phalguna 15, the season of cold vanishes and summer starts. Boys with bits of wood in their hands may go out of their house, collect a heap of wood and grass, set it on fire with mantras, clap their hands, go around the fire thrice, laugh, sing and by their noise, laughter and homa, the demoness would die.

So on the day of Holi, boys gather in groups and chase demoness Dhundhi away by shouts, abuses and pranks.It is for this reason that young boys are allowed to use rude words on the day of Holi without anybody taking offence.Children also take great pleasure in burning the Holi fire.

Demoness Putana

A demoness by name Pootana offered her poisoned nipples to baby Krishna in an attempt to kill him.The miraculous Krishna sucked her nipples so intensely that the demoness was drained to death.This hapened in Mathura.So after the death of demoness Pootana, people of Mathura are being celebrating this festival in the evening by lighting bourn fire,on the day of Holi.

Brij Ki Holi / Lath Mar Holi

Lord Krishna and Shri Radha grew up in Nandgaon and Barsana respectively, near Mathura,which are always considered as the main place of Holi celebrations.Since his childhood Lord Krishna,in Vraj, played Holi with the Gopies and the celebrations have been continued till today.Men of Nandagaon enter Barsana with hopes of raising their flag over Shri Radha's temple.

The women of Barsana receive them with long wooden sticks,by softly beating them, as they attempt to rush to Shri Radha's temple.Men take safety measures by using thick clothings, as they are not supposed to retaliate.In this mock battle the men try their best not to be captured.The unsuccessful men can be forcefully lead away and dressed in female attire,before being made to dance as per the custom.Hence this Holi festival is famously known as 'Lath Mar Holi' (picture below).

Ancient References

Texts and Inscriptions

The festival of Holi finds references in Jaimini Mimansa and also in the Vedas and Puranas such as Narad Purana and Bhavishya Purana . Holi festival belonging to 300 BC is found in sculptures at Ramgarh in the province of Vindhya. King Harsha, has also mentioned about holi festival in his work Ratnavali which was written in 7th century. The famous Muslim tourist - Ulbaruni too has mentioned about holikotsav in his historical memories. As per the ancient Muslim writings, holi festival was not only celebrated by the Hindus but also by the Muslims community.

Holi Sculpture

There are references of Holi celebrations in the sculptures,on walls of ancient temples.At an Indian place called Hampi at Vijayanagar,a 16th century panel sculpted in a temple shows a festive scene of Holi. The painting shows a Prince and Princess standing amidst their people waiting with spriklers,called "pichkaris", to drench the Royal couple in coloured water.

At Ahmednagar painting of 16th century,is the theme of Vasanta Ragini spring song.It shows a prince-princess sitting on a grand swing, while maidens are playing music and spraying colors on them with sprinklers.There are a lot of other paintings and murals in the temples of medieval India which provide a pictoral description of Holi.

A Mewar painting (circa 1755) shows a tank filled with colored water and people dancing.The Maharana amidst his courtiers is bestowing gifts on people.A Bundi miniature shows a king seated on a tusker and from a balcony above some damsels are showering red coloured powder called "gulal" on him.