The festival of Holi symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It
also marks the advent of spring and people celebrate joyously with a
splash of colour.
As nature blooms in full
colour, people of India join the celebrations with the festival of
Holi, one of the most boisterous festivals of the Hindus. People
celebrate joyously with friends and relatives, putting gulal
and throwing coloured water on each other.
The antiquity of the
festival is as old as Indian civilization itself. The Nilmata Purana
says tht people were aggressive and even abusive on this day because
they hoped to frighten away the pisachis or demons, hoping
when joy holds sway, evil is kept at bay.
Ancient paintings and
writings glorify this riot of colours with exuberance forming the
canvas. A unique sculptured panel from a Vijaynagara temple at Hampi
shows young lovers and damsel dancing in the centre celebrating Holi,
while a maiden on either side is depicted throwing coloured water on
them with pistons held in their hands. Painters have reveled in
painting Lord Krishna playing Holi with Gopis and Gopas (cowherds and
girls). Many beautiful paintings show kings of various kingdoms
celebrating in great splendour in their palaces with a tank in the
centre full of coloured water. In fact in olden days most palaces
were built with an earmarked courtyard and tank just for the Holi
celebrations. During this festivals Hindus and Muslims celebrated
together breaking down the religious barriers.
This origin of this
festival lies in the story in Hiranya Kashiypu. He was a King of
ancient times who got a boon from Lord Shiva that nobody could kill
him. After being granted the boon the King became arrogant. He
insisted that his subjects pray to him saying, Om Hiranya
Kashipu namaha (Salutations to Hiranya Kashipu) and not to
Lord Vishnu as Om Narayana namah (Salutations to Vishnu).
Only one voice darted object. That was his son Prahalad.
Hiranyakashipu put Prahalad through many tests and Prahalad always
emerged the winner. One such was when Hiranyakashipyu set a fire to
Prahalad who was seated on Holikas (Haranyakashipus
sister) lap. Holika had like her brother got herself a boon too. She
was fireproof. But when the flames died Holika had turned into ashes.
Only Prahalad remained. To celebrate this victory, Holi is
There, however, is yet
another myth that is equally associated with Holi celebrations. It is
said that Parvati who once was desperately in love with Shiva adorned
herself and preened before her lover, but he took no notice. She
threw a tantrum, and had to appease herself. As Parvati sat desolate,
Kama, the God of love felt for her. He offered to shoot his floral
arrows of love towards Lord Shiva so that the powerful ascetic may
abandon his meditation and give Parvati the attention she so much
yearned for. But when the arrows anointed with love fell on the
Maha-Yogi, he opened his third eye and burnt into ashes Lord Kama.
The God of love was brought back to life by Parvati. This day since
these has been celebrated as Holi.
Being a land of
diversity, Holi is celebrated differently in various parts of India.
In Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, for instance the
celebrations reach a feverish pitch. The whole town is decorated and
all temples observe different ceremonies from a week before Holi.
Ascetics and religious leaders come from all over India to rejoice.
They draw from yet another legend of Hindu mythology. There was once
a demoness named Holi of Putana. She lived during the time of Lord
Krishna. When the infant Krishna was born, his maternal uncle Kamas,
was all set to kill him. Kamsa had been told by a voice from heaven
that this child would grow up to kill him.
Similar to the story of
Moses, Kamsa had ordered that all infants be killed. But Krishna got
left out. So he sent Putana to kill him. Puratana or Holi picked up
the child from the cradle and put him to her breast which had been
smeared with poison. Bu the Lord knew. He bit so hard that he sucked
the life out of Holi. So much so, the local legend, goes that body of
Putana disappeared. So happy were the cowherds or Yadava tribes of
Mathura on the death of the demoness that they made an effigy of
Putana and burnt it. Thus Holi is celebrated even today in
The Holi celebrations
matched the mood of nature. The riot of colours matched the flowers
in full bloom. The coloured powders used for playing were made from
flowers, roots and herbs that were good for the skin which had become
dry during the winter months. On the eve of holi, a bon-fire lit in
the memory of Holika, was also supposed to cleanse the surroundings.
Special sweets called gujjia were made which are
very popular to this day. Thus even though Holi is celebrated
differently in different parts of the country, the essential message
is the same victory of good over evil.