India’s rich culture and heritage remain unparalleled which is an all-embracing confluence of beliefs, traditions and customs. In this incredible India, the colourful festival is around the corner. Smeared in colours along with scrumptious delicacies can be an apt description of this festival. But there is more to it! Holi is celebrated on two consecutive days – Chhoti Holi (Holika Dahan) & Badi Holi. Holi also signifies the arrival of spring as it is observed on a full moon night in the Phalguna month on the Pratipada Tithi of Krishna Paksha.
Although the celebrations appear to be the same throughout the country, some states enjoy it in a slightly different manner. For example, Lathmar Holi is celebrated in Barsana, Uttar Pradesh, which is also the home of goddess Radha, where women playfully hit men with lath or sticks while they try to shield themselves. The Holi celebrations of Mathura and Vrindavan are also very famous. This year Holi is arriving on 28th and 29th March and with restrictions due to the surge in Covid-19 cases.
Holika Dahan: Worshipping a demon on a holy festival
Choti Holi or Holika Dahan is celebrated the night before Holi. A huge bonfire is lit to commemorate the burning of demoness Holika, sister of a demon king named Hiranyakashyap. As per Hindu beliefs, demon king Hiranyakashyap was an enemy of Lord Vishnu but his son Prahalad was an ardent devotee of the Lord. Prahlad’s devotion to Lord Vishnu didn’t go down well with his father and the demon king planned multiple ways to kill his own son to be failed miserably in the end. For the unversed, King Hiranyakashyap had a boon that made him invincible. The boon was that he couldn’t be killed either by an animal or man, couldn’t be killed inside or outside of the house, during the day or night, on land or in the air and by any man-made weapons. Arrogance shadowed over the king.
After various attempts to kill his son, the king asked his sister Simhika (Holika) to help him. Now, Simhika (Holika) had a mystic shawl gifted from Lord Brahma that could protect her from fire. A day before Holi, she lured child Prahlad to sit on her lap while she was sitting on the pyre wearing the divine shawl. The power of Lord Vishnu was so much that the divine shawl could not save Holika and instead little Prahalad was rescued from the fire. Hence, the day came to be known as Holika Dahan.
This incident left Hiranyakashyap shaken and he asked his son to prove his devotion. He asked if Lord Vishnu existed in the pillar, to which Prahlada said ‘yes’. On hearing this, the king broke the pillar, and to his horror, a half lion and half man came out of it. He was Lord Vishnu in Narasimha avatar to kill the demon. Narasimha tore his torso apart with his bare nails at twilight, keeping all the parameters in mind. Ever since then, Narasimha’s avatar is widely worshipped across the nation. He is favourite among children to make them fearless.
It is popularly said that performing Holika Poojan can bring prosperity, power and wealth. It is believed that Holika was created to overcome all fears. Hence, people start afresh from this day.
Another legend behind the festival of colors
Another legend that is associated with the festival of colours involves Lord Krishna who is also an avatar of Lord Vishnu. Lord Krishna, known to be very mischievous and playful, once, got concerned about his complexion and thought that beloved Radha would never like him because she was extremely fair. He took this complaint to his mother Yashoda and she asked him to apply colour on Radha and so he made her look like him. Since that day, the festival became about smearing people with colour along with becoming the festival of love.
Holi celebration across the country
The festival of colors is celebrated with traditional fervour in every nook and corner of the country. Let us take a look at some of the traditions of Holi in India and how different regions smear in many shades of happiness.
According to Hindu beliefs, Holi began in the Barsana region of India, which includes Vrindavan, Mathura, Nandgaon and Barsana. Here, Holi is just not celebrated with colors but with lathis. Barsana in Mathura is famous for Lathmar Holi. Lathmaar means “to beat with sticks,” a tradition where women use sticks to playfully hit men. This is based on the story of how Krishna was chased away by the women-folk of Barsana, Radha’s village after he tried to play Holi with her.
Cultural Holi of Santiniketan
In Santiniketan, West Bengal, the festival of Holi is celebrated as a spring festival, which was started by famous Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. It is said that, in this festival, young people dress up in traditional clothes and sing songs written by Rabindranath Tagore, along with playing Holi with colors as well as flowers.
Assamese people celebrate Holi as Phakuwa and Doul, for two days. They burn clay huts to symbolise the pyre of Holika, the mythic demoness and play with colours on the following day. Phakuwa is celebrated similarly in Bihar and Jharkhand.
Ukkuli of the Konkani community celebrates Holi as a part of the spring festival, Shigmo, which takes place over an entire month. Cultural programmes are also conducted.
Dhuleti is one of the most fun ways to celebrate Holi. Young men in Ahmedabad climb on each other’s shoulders to break a pot of buttermilk that is hung high above the ground. This is a re-enactment of little Krishna trying to steal butter from different homes.
In the state of Karnataka, a unique celebration of Holi takes place, where folk dances are performed for the five days leading up to Holi. It is also known as ‘Hunter Dance’. People of Sirsi celebrate Holi with this unique folk dance every alternate year.
Hola Mohalla, known as the warrior Holi, is celebrated in Punjab. This Sikh festival takes place over three days, to train Nihang Sikhs in martial skills. It was initiated by the 10th Sikh religious leader, Guru Gobind Singh. The Holi celebration
follows this event, where people sing their hearts out.
People of West Bengal celebrate Basanta Utsav to welcome the spring festival. A procession known as Dol Jatra takes place, in which people place idols of Radha and Krishna together on palanquins and tour across towns and villages.
Celebrating Holi would be different this year but the vibrant hues will fill the sky! Keep in mind to maintain distance while following the guidelines.