Children on ‘Holi’ we put gulal (colour) on our friends and play with pichkaris and water balloons without taxing our mind as to why this festival is celebrated. Celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun which is the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar, Holi has various legends associated with it.
The foremost is the legend of demon King Hiranyakashyap who demanded everybody in his kingdom to worship him but his pious son, Prahlad became a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap wanted his son to be killed. He asked his sister Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap as Holika had a boon which made her immune to fire. Story goes that Prahlad was saved by Lord himself for his extreme devotion and evil minded Holika was burnt to ashes, for her boon worked only when she entered the fire alone.Since that time, people light a bonfire, called Holika on the eve of Holi and celebrate the victory of good over evil.
There is another popular fable of ogress Dhundhi who devoured innocent children in the kingdom of Prithu. Dhundhi, had a boon from Lord Shiva that she would not be killed by gods or men, nor suffer from arms or from heat, cold or rain. These boons made her invincible. She was cursed by Lord Shiva that she would be in danger from children who will chase her and play pranks on her. She was ultimately chased away by children’s pranks on Holi.
Some also celebrate the death of Pootana, the ogress who tried to kill Lord Krishna as an infant by feeding him poisonous milk while executing the plan of Kansa, Krishna’s devil uncle. However, Krishna sucked her blood and brought her end. Some who view the origin of festivals from seasonal cycles believe that Pootana represents winter and her death the end of winter.
A story also goes that as a child, Krishna was extremely jealous of Radha's fair complexion since he himself was very dark. One day, Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about the injustice of nature which made Radha so fair and him so dark. To pacify the crying Krishna, the doting mother asked him to go and colour Radha's face. In a mischievous mood, Krishna applied colour on Radha's face; making her one like himself. The trend soon gained popularity amongst the masses. No wonder, there is no match to the Holi of Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana—the places associated with the birth and childhood of Radha and Krishna.
According to another legend, Lord Shiva nearly destroyed the world when he learnt about Goddess Sati’s immolation. He renounced all worldly duties and went into deep meditation. The world’s balance soon crumbled in his absence and Sati took rebirth as Goddess Parvati to try and win Lord Shiva’s heart and wake him up from his trance.When Goddess Parvati failed in her endeavours, she requested Kamadev, the God of love to help her. Disturbed by Kamadev’s love arrow, Lord Shiva opened his third eye that fired anger and Kamadev was reduced to ashes. It is said that it was on the day of Holi that Kamadev had sacrificed himself for the good of all beings. Later, on request of Rati, Kamadeva’s wife Lord Shiva granted Kamadev immortality.
How to make Colours for Holi at home :
- Red Sandalwood Powder has a beautiful red colour, which is beneficial for the skin. This can be used instead of Red gulal. Dry red hibiscus flowers in shade and powder it to make a lovely red colour.
- Use mehendi / henna powder separately or mix with equal quantity of any flour to attain a lovely green shade.
- Slice or grate one Beet root. Soak in water for a wonderful magenta. Leave overnight for a deeper shade. Dilute with water.
- The Flame of the Forest , known as Tesu, Palash or Dhak in Indian languages, is the source of the wonderful, traditional colour for Holi.
- Mix two teaspoons of haldi / turmeric powder with double the quantity of besan (gram flour). Haldi and besan are extremely healthy for our skin.
- (Add water if you want to use the above preparation for wet Holi)
On the eve of Holi, people gather and light huge bonfires, called Holika Dahan. To render gratefulness to agni, the God of Fire, gram and stalks from the harvest are also offered to agni with all humility. Ash left from this bonfire is also considered sacred and people apply it on their foreheads. People believe that the ash protects them from evil forces.
A day or two before the Holi womenfolk start making preparations for the Holi festival as they cook gujiya, mathri and papri for the family and also for the relatives. At some places specially in the north women also make papads and potato chips at this time.
It is said the spirit of Holi encourages the feeling of brotherhood in society and even the enemies turn friend on this day. People of all communities and religions participate in this joyous and colouful festival and strenthen the secular fabric of the nation.
The festival finds a detailed description in early religious works such as Jaimini’s Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. Besides having a detailed description in the Vedas and Puranas such as Narad Purana and Bhavishya Purana, the festival of Holi finds a mention in Jaimini Mimansa. A stone inscription belonging to 300 BC found at Ramgarh in the province of Vindhya has mention of Holikotsav on it. King Harsha, too has mentioned about Holikotsav in his work Ratnavali that was written during the 7th century.
The famous Muslim tourist—Ulbaruni too has mentioned about Holikotsav in his historical memoirs. Other Muslim writers of that period have mentioned, that Holikotsav was not only celebrated by the Hindus but also by the Muslims. In some parts of India, specially in Bengal and Odisha, Holi Purnima is also celebrated as the birthday of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. n Aniket Raja
Holi by Caribbean Hindus
Phagwah is known to us as the Indo-Caribbean Hindu festival of the New Year, also known as Holi. It happens in every spring, the Sunday after the first full moon of the Hindu almanac, Phagwah veritably paints the streets as children and families ‘colour’ one another with ‘Abeer’, the religious colourful powder to drive away the winter greys . In North America, the Phagwah parade in Richmond Hill, is the largest carnival which started in 1990.
History says that celebrating the festival of colours, Holi, marks the triumph of good over evil and as the rebirth of the agricultural seasons. Since the 1970s many Guyanese have immigrated to the United States, particularly to Richmond Hill and Jamaica in Queens, and brought the Phagwah ceremony to their new home.
Many Indians went to Caribbean for sugarcane plantations in the 19th century and early 20th century and brought the Holi day to Trinidad and Guyana mainly. Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul, Trinidad-born, Nobel Laureate is one of the finest examples. Phagwah or Holi is being treated as an important national Caribbean holiday.
With chill neatly put up in the loft, it's time to appear out of our cocoon and enjoy this spring festival. It is also time for spring crop. The new crop fills up the stores in every family circle and maybe such abundance accounts for the happiness during Holi. Holi is also known as ‘Vasant Mahotsava’ and ‘Kama Mahotsava’.