Sunday, February 14, 2010

Holi – The Festival of Colors

Holi is a beautiful festival of India that is celebrated with colors. The colorful festival of Holi in India is observed on Phalgun Purnima of the Hindu calendar which usually falls towards the end of February or the beginning of March. This vibrant festival signifies the triumph of good over evil and this special occasion also bridges all social gaps and makes bonding with friends, families and others, sweeter. People of all ages celebrate Holi in India with great joy and fervor by greeting each other with ‘Happy Holi’ wishes, sweets, gifts and of course by spraying colors on each other or rubbing powder colors or 'gulal' and 'abeer' on each others' faces. The spirit of Holi takes shape right from the previous evening, the Holi eve, when a bonfire is lit up.

‘Holi’ gets its name from ‘Holika’ and there are a number of interesting legendary tales associated with this festival which makes it all the more vivid and exuberant. Holi finds a detailed mention in the religious texts like Jaimini's Purvamimamsa sutra and Kathaka Grhya sutra, Narad Purana and Bhavishya Purana. ‘Holikotsav (Holi festival)’ finds mention in King Harsha’s Ratnavali too. Historians have traced the existence of this popular Indian festival even before the birth of Christ. The festival was also very popular amongst the ancient Aryans, especially in Eastern India. Several historical Muslim writers like Ulbaruni have mentioned that the festival was celebrated as much by the Muslims. Phalguna Purnima marks the last day of a year, after which begins the spring season or the ‘Vasanta Ritu’. Holika is a full moon night which is celebrated to welcome the spring season.

Holi is celebrated in unique ways in different parts of the country. For example, in Bengal and Orissa, the festival also marks the birth of a legendary saint called Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. One of the most popular legends associated with this grand festival is that of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. Hiranyakshyap was a powerful devilish king who wanted everyone to worship him. But to his dismay his own son Prahlad grew up to became a true devotee of Lord Vishnu. So to get rid of him, Hiranyakshyap ordered his sister Holika who could remain unscathed in fire, to enter a blazing flame with Prahlad. But as the victory is always by good’s side, holika is burnt alive while Prahlad is saved. One of the other favorite legends associated with Holi is that of Radha Krishna, where the mischievous Krishna used to spray colors on Radha and her friends (gopis). This prank became a festival with time.

Holi also celebrates the death of the evil Ogress Pootana who once tried to kill the infant Lord Krishna by feeding him poisoned milk. In South India, Holi is particularly celebrated remembering the legend of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva, where the Lord of Passion - Kaamadeva risked his life to save the world by revoking Shiva from his state of meditation. Another popular legend is that of Ogress Dhundhi who was a trouble maker to kids in Raghu’s Kingdom and on this very auspicious occasion was chased away by the prankster children. Holi has a great biological significance too. It has been scientifically proven that when colors of Holi are sprayed on the body they biologically affect the body by entering the skin pores and strengthening the body ions and enhancing one’s beauty. Besides, the tradition of bonfire or Parikrima on the Holi eve kills the bacteria which specially spread during this period of the year.

Holi has a several regional names and though the play of colors is one thing that remains common in this festival everywhere, but the reason and other rituals of this celebration differ from one place to another. Some of the popular regional versions of Holi are Dulandi Holi (Haryana), Rangpanchami (Maharashtra), Basant Utsav or Dol Purnima (West Bengal), Lathmar Holi (Barsana), Hola Mohalla (Punjab), Shimgo (Goa), Kaman Pandigai (Tamil Nadu) and Phagu Purnima (Pune). Holi is a joyous occasion so when you become a part of this wonderful festival you should also make sure you abide by the safety tips too to make it a safe and happy holi. Always play with good quality colors and make sure your skin is covered as much as possible. Cover your hair and use dental caps. When you are traveling in a car, make sure the window is shut completely.