Friday, March 06, 2015

The Celebration of Holi

Holi is celebrated at the approach of vernal equinox,on the Phalguna Poornima (Full Moon day). The festival date varies every year, as  per the Hindu calendar, and typically comes in March, sometimes February in the Gregorian Calendar. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive and repair the ruptured relationships.

Holi celebrations start with a Holika bonfire on the night before Holi where people gather, sing and dance. The next morning is a free-for-all carnival of colours, where participants play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight. Anyone and everyone is a fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. The frolic and fight with colours occurs in the open streets, open parks, outside temples, apartments and buildings. Groups carry drums and musical instruments, go from place to place, sing and dance. People visit family, friends and foes to throw colours on each other, laugh and chit-chat, then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks. In the evening, after sobering up, people dress up, visit friends and families.


Here is a symbolic legend to explain why Holi is well celebrated as a colour fest. The word "Holi" originates from "Holika", the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu ( not Hiranya Kashyap - the corect name is Hiranya Kashipu). King Hiranyakashipu had earned a boon that made him virtually indestructible. The special powers blinded him, he grew arrogant, thought he himsef was God, and demanded that everyone worship him as God.
Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada, however, disagreed. He  remained devoted to Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu. He subjected Prahlada to cruel punishments, none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika - Prahlada's evil aunt - tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak (shawl) that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada was not. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased / protected Prahlada. Holika burned, Prahlada survived. Vishnu appeared in the form of  “NARASIMHA”,  the Man-lion,” and killed Hiranyakashipu. The bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, of fire that burned Holika. The day after Holika bonfire is celebrated as Holi.

In Braj region of India, where Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until  Rang Panchami) in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as festival of love.  There is a symbolic myth behind commemorating Krishna as well. Baby Krishna transitioned into his characteristic dark blue skin colour because a she demon Putana poisoned him with her breast milk.  In his youth, Krishna despairs whether fair skinned Radha and other Gopikas (girls) will like him because of his skin colour. His mother, tired of the desperation, asks him to approach Radha and colour her face in any colour he wanted. This he does, and Radha and Krishna became a couple. The playful colouring of the face of Radha has henceforth been commemorated as Holi. Beyond India, these legends to explain the significance of Holi (Phagwah) are common in some Caribbean and South American communities of Indian origin such as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.
Holi festival has other cultural significance. It is the festive day to end and rid oneself of past errors, end conflicts by meeting others, a day to forget and forgive. People pay or forgive debts, as well as deal anew with those in their lives. Holi also marks the start of spring, and for many the start of new year.
Holi is of particular significance in the Braj region, which includes locations traditionally connected to the Lord Krishna:- Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon, Uttar Pradesh, and Barsana.
Outside India, Holi is observed by the minority Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan as well in countries with large Indian subcontinent diaspora populations such as Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, United Kingdom, United States, Mauritius, and Fiji. The Holi rituals and customs outside South Asia also vary with local adaptations.
Traditionally, in rural Karnataka, children collect money and wood in the weeks prior to Holi, and on "Kamadahana" night all the wood is put together and lit. The festival is celebrated for two days. People in north Karnataka prepare special food on this day.

In Sirsi City, Karnataka, Holi is celebrated with a unique folk dance called “Bedara Vesha ( Hunters’ Fancy Dress )”, which is performed during the five nights beginning five days before the actual festival day. The festival is celebrated every alternate year in the town, which attracts a large number of tourists from different parts of the India.
In Karnataka’s  villages and towns, days before the festival people, particularly children and adolscents, start stealing and gathering wood and combustible materials for the bonfire in parks, community centers, near temples and other open spaces. On top of the pyre is an effigy to signify Kaamadeva / Manmatha, who tricked Shiva in to loving  Paarvati. Then Shiva burns Manmatha with the fire from  his third eye.
In Karnataka, it is not Holika Dahan, but it is called KAAMA DAHAN. It signifies the  burning of lust, evil and bad desires.