HOLI-The festival of colours in a country so diverse

After winter comes Spring, the king of seasons, when mother nature decorates herself with new foliage and flowers of different colours that influence the human mind greatly. In fact, the change in nature through different seasons influences everyone differently and accordingly, people celebrate the seasons for their joy and satisfaction. After the long spell of winter that makes people lazy and inactive, comes Spring which brings new joy and hope. This festival of Spring in India is called the Vasantotsav or Holikotsav which is celebrated as the festival of colours throughout the peninsula. In ancient times it was called Madanotsav or Festival of Love as mentioned in our Sanskrit literatures.

People celebrate this day colouring each other using ‘Phaag’ or ‘Gulal’. They also exchange sweets. Folk songs, dance and music are enjoyed by all and sundry. This great festival represents unity in diversity among the people of India which has been the very hallmark of this great nation. India is a densely populated country where the people of variety of castes and communities co-exist in harmony. They live in peace that speaks of of true brotherhood, rich cultural tradition and heritage of our motherland. This fact is undeniably borne by the following lines from antiquity.

Braahmanaih Kshatriyairvaisyaih
Sudraischaanyaischa Jaatibhih;

Ekeebhooya Prakartavyaa Kriraa Yaa Phaalgune Sadaa.
The above lines emphasizes that all people, irrespective of their caste or community, are expected to participate as a whole in this traditional festival of the spring season. Holi happens to be a festival of immense significance not only from the social point of view but it is also relevant from the physical, cultural and national perspective.

Why Holi Is Celebrated
This festival of colours is observed from social, religious and hygienic point of view from time immemorial. It is, in fact, a harvesting festival when paddy, wheat and barley crops are harvested and the residue is set on fire to destroy the pests in the name of ‘Holika’ the symbol of evil. On this day of the year, people from different walks of life get-together to celebrate Holi. We find its evidence in our ancient Sanskrit literature.

According to the religious legend, Lord Shiva, on this day, put to ashes Lord Kaam dev, the love God. So people observe this day as the day to destroy the carnal desire and also anger, hatred and malice. On this occasion people observe Holaastak i.e. eight days from the eighth day of the fortnight to full-moon day. People place on a open ground collected tree-branches and drape them with coloured pieces of clothes. They then move around it and dance. Following which people make fire and chant mantras to burn all their hatred, anger, malice and carnal desire through that fire. During these eight days auspicious samskars-specially marriage is prohibited.

This fire is called Holika Dahan or the burning of Holika which is the symbol of evil. Legend has it that Holika, the sister of Hiranyakasipu the demon king and the father of Holika, was ordered by her brother to take Prahlad, the great devotee of Vishnu, on her lap and sit on fire. The evil plan was to kill Prahlad and not Holikaa who could not be destroyed or killed by fire. But strangely, by the grace of Almighty Vishnu, Holika and not Prahlad succumbed to the fire.

Bhavishya Purana mentions that Narad, the heavenly sage, advised king Yudhishthira assured impunity to all his masses, irrespective of caste, after they burned all the waste in the kingdom on this day and performed a puja in the name of Holika. And for this, his subjects were told to free themselves of their daily routine and rejoice by devoting the full day to the puja. During this time the people would eat Prasad, the ear of corn of wheat and barley, called ‘Holay’. This performance is called ‘Navasashyesti’ or the sacrificial rites with new crops.

In Madanotsave i.e. Holi the people should eat mango blossoms and sandal paste together on the full-moon day. And anybody who pays a visit to the idol of Krishna, sitting on a swing, will achieve a place in Vaikuntha, the abode of Vishnu, as is strongly believed.

The different forms of Holi
This beautiful festival, Holi, is celebrated in Mathura and Brindavan for fifteen days. And in contrast to that the Holi in Barasarna is celebrated as a ‘Laathmaar’ or a ceremony in which the menfolk spray coloured water and throw coloured powder on the womenfolk who instead beat the menfolk with thick twisted cord of cloth and sticks (lath).

In Bengal, this ceremony is observed as Dol Yatra which starts from Shuklaa Dasami and ends on the fullmoon day. On the fullmoon day, the people celebrate the birthday of Lord Chaitanya, the founder of modern ‘Vaishnavism’.

In Maharashtra, Holi is called ‘Rang Panchami’ and in Punjab the Sikhs observe ‘Hola Mahalla’ in which they perform show of strength.
In Bihar and Nepal, this festival of colours is called ‘Phagua’. The people of these regions play with colours and wear new clothes for two days.
In Goa, it is observed as a cultural ceremony called ‘Simogo’.
In Tamil Nadu, this day is called ‘Kaman Podigai’ or the spring festival based on the god of love, i.e. Kaamadeva.
In Manipur, this festival is called ‘Yangsang’. Unmarried young men and women build small cottages on the banks of rivers to live together and choose their life-partner.
The people of Malwa region of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh observe the festival with folklores.
In Rajasthan, the people-especially womenfolk set fire to Holika on the previous night and burn the green gram plant; sing around the fire and eat the burnt grams.
In Gujarat too, the occasion is observed with great enthusiasm.
In short, this festival of colour is celebrated in the entire country with pomp and grandeur with a few variations in conformity according to their culture.

Holashtak, Holika Dahan and Celebration :
This year Holashtak begins on 27th February. On 28th February Bhadra will remain till 12 noon IST. As such Holi ka Dahan should be done during the Godhuli hours ie. between 6:24 pm -8:51 pm. Celebration of Holi should be done on 8th March 2023.

Let’s welcome the vibrant festival of colours with joy.

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Dr. Surendra Kapoor

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