Holi is one of the major festivals of India and is the most vibrant of all. The joy of Holi knows no bound. The festival is celebrated across the four corners of India or rather across the globe. The festival is filled with so much fun and frolic that the very mention of the word ‘Holi’ draws smile and enthusiasm amongst the people. Holi also celebrates the arrival of Spring, a season of joy and hope.
Legend of Holi Festival
Holi is one of the oldest festivals of India. There are many interesting stories associated with the festival’s origin as one moves across the different states from North to South and East to West. Paintings and scriptures depict the roots of the festival. Mythology plays a very important part in narrating the festival of Holi. The most popular stories of Holi origin relates to ‘HolikaDahan’ and Legend of Radha-Krishan.
Story of Holika
Integrally entwined with Holi, is the tradition of ‘HolikaDahan’, which is actually lighting of bonfires. The ritual is symbolic of victory of good over evil and has its root in the legend of demon king Hiranyakashyap who wished to end his blessed son, Prahlad’s life with the help of his sister, Holika who burnt in the fir and no harm occurred to Prahlad. Since then the day is celebrated in victory of good over bad.
Story of Radha and Krishan
The legend of Radha and Krishna is closely linked with this tradition of colors on Holi. Young Krishna, who had a dark complexion, was jealous of his beloved Radha’s extremely fair skin. In a mischievous mood, he applied color on Radha’s face. Following this ancient legend, lovers till date long to color their beloved as an expression of love.
Here is how Holi is celebrated in different parts of India –
Holi at Mathura and Vrindavana is celebrated with great gusto for many days. For, these were the places where Krishna spent most of his childhood. Situated in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the celebration there spans over a week or so. Each major temple, housing the idols of Krishna and Radha, celebrates Holi on a different day. People throng the temples to get drenched with colored water and consider it a blessing from the god.
Of particular interest is the Holi festival in the village of Barsana, 42 km from Mathura. Radha belonged to Barsana while Krishna hailed from Nandagaon. On Holi, men from Nandagaon come to Barsana to celebrate Holi with the women here, who are ready to beat them with sticks instead of playing with gulal.
A human pyramid is formed to break the pot of buttermilk hung high up in the street Haryana, also in North India. The tradition of the Hindu undivided family there is that the brother’s wife beats her brother in law with her sari rolled up into a rope in a mock rage. All this is done in good humor and in the evening the brother in law brings sweetmeats for her.
In Maharashtra and Gujarat, a grand procession of men soaked with coloured water walks through the streets with a mock alert call that asks to take care of pots of butter and milk as Krishna comes in. This refers to Krishna’s habit of stealing butter and milk stored in terracotta pots from people’s homes. There is also a tradition of hanging a pot of buttermilk high up in the street.
Men forming a human staircase try to break this pot, and whoever succeeds is crowned the Holi king of the locality for that year. All these traditions come as a mock show to relive the acts if Krishna, who popularisedHoli in its present forms. As a child, Krishna was extremely fond of milk and milk products. He would prowl into any accessible house with his friends and steal pots of butter or break pots of milk.
In Bengal, Holi is called DolYatra, or the swing festival. Traditionally the festival is celebrated with idols of Krishna and Radhaare placed on swings and devotees take turns to swing them. Women dance around the swing and sing devotional songs, as men spray coloured water and powder called “Abeer”. However, recent trend doesn’t see much of those traditions. People play with colored waters, powders in the morning. And later take out processions on the streets with bands and with faces and bodies covered with Holi colors.
The Nobel laureate Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore introducedBasantaUtsav to relive the ancient tradition in the school of Shantiniketan, the seat of learning he founded.
The BasantaUtsav means Springfest.There the boys and girls would greet the spring at this time of the year. Not only with colors, but with recital of songs, dance and hymns in a serene environment. Today Shantiniketan is a full-fledged university butlives up to greet the spring every year with the same tradition.
Orissa has also the traditions similar to those of Bengal. They only place the idols of Jagannath in place of Krishna and Radha. This is because the famous Jagannath Temple of Puri is situated in Orissa. And “Jagannath”, or ‘the Lord of the Universe’ is yet another name of Krishna.
In Manipur too, Holi is extremely interesting. It is a six-day festival here, commencing on the full moon day of Phalguna. The traditional and centuries-old Yaosang festival of Manipur amalgamated with Holi in the 18th century with the introduction of Vaishnavism. In earlier times, folk dances were performed with folk songs under the moonlight. The only musical instrument used was an indegenous drum. Presently, modern bands and fluorescent lamps have replaced these. Beginning days before, people of collect money from the community to spend on the festivities.
A thatched hut of hay and twigs and sticks is built and then set ablaze. The next day, boys go in groups to play gulal with the girls. And in return for playing with them, the girls extract money from the boys. Also devotees play gulal and dance in front of the temple of Krisna dressed in the traditional white and yellow turbans, and sing devotional songs. On the last day of the festival, hundreds of devotees take out processions towards the main Krishna temple, 3 km west of the state capital, Imphal. There various cultural activities are performed.
Among the main cities in India, capital Delhi comes first, followed by Mumbai, and Calcutta. All celebrate the Holi with colors, feasts, music, dance and blasting parties.
The play with colors peaks up in the residential clusters, away from the city centers.
People usually do not go out with families beyond their local neighborhood, as public conveyances do no ply with usual frequency.
Now if you are ever willing to get to these places really to catch the Holi spirit live, try to make it at least the day before the Holi. And, yes just have a look at the Tips for a safe Holi, before getting started.