One of the major festivals of India, Holi is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety. HOLI, THE GRAND FESTIVAL MARKED BY COLOURED WATER, gaiety and real gay abandon, comes when the cold winter months give way to summer.The crops have been cut, threshed, and stored or sold away. The farmer and his wife are free, and money is in hand. This festival falls on the full moon during the month of Phagun some time in February or March, which is conducive to getting out and about.
Holi festival may be celebrated with various names and people of different states might be following different traditions. But, what makes Holi so unique and special is the spirit of it which remains the same throughout the country and even across the globe, wherever it is celebrated.
Entire country wears a festive look when it is time for Holi celebration. Market places get abuzz with activity as frenzied shoppers start making preparations for the festival. Heaps of various hues of gulal and abeer can be seen on the roadside days before the festival. Pichkaris in innovative and modern design too come up every year to lure the children who wish to collect them as Holi memorabilia and of course, to drench everybody in the town.
Womenfolk too start making early preparations for the holi festival as they cook loads of 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.
Season of Bloom
Everybody gets delighted at the arrival of Holi as the season itself is so gay. Holi is also called the Spring Festival - as it marks the arrival of spring the season of hope and joy. The gloom of the winter goes as Holi promises of bright summer days. Nature too, it seems rejoices at the arrival of Holi and wears its best clothes. Fields get filled with crops promising a good harvest to the farmers and flowers bloom colouring the surroundings and filling fragrance in the air.
Holi is associated to a great extent with Lord Krishna, who in his childhood and youth, ran around with his band of cowherds and maidens of the village, completely captivating everyone. He loved festivity, and the hamlets of Brindavan, Gokul and Barsana were full of fun and frolic. Lord Krishna played Holi with so much gusto that even today the songs sung during Holi are full of pranks that he played on the Gopis and
Gopis played on him, especially those on his childhood sweethearyt Radhika,who lived in Barsana .she remained his heartthrob and none of his eighrt wives could ever take her place.
The festival of Holi begins on Duwadashi, three days earlier to Puno- on the 12th day of the waxing moon of Phagun. The children may have started festivities even earlier, with everyone shouting at them not to get wet and fall sick! They are seen running amok on roads and rooftops with syringes filled with water. Every prank is taken in one's stride and tolerated (to a certain extent, of course!). Nothing which can injure or hurt, or throwing colour or balloons on people going to their places of work, is to be allowed, but laxity and smiles are well writ on the faces of even those who usually wear forbidding expressions.
Bonfires date back to the days of Hiranyakashyap, when he ordered his son Prahlad (the great bhakt of Lord Narayan) to be burnt alive, because Hiranyakashyap was an Asur and hated Lord Narayan. He asked his sister Holika, to wear the set of clothes she possessed which could not catch fire. She was told to hold Prahlad on her lap tightly, so that he could not escape while in flames. Holika was a very good soul; she quietly transferred the clothes onto Prahlad and got burnt herself, thus saving Prahlad to grow up and be the greatest bhakt of Lord Vishnu. To celebrate this great event the bonfire is still lit.
The next day is the real day of Holi. This day is called Parva. From the morning onwards, people gather and play Holi. They visit each other's houses, carrying colour and water, drenching each other as they visit different places. Some get on to two- wheelers, cars and truckes and visit people living far away; others choose to play with their neighbours. Some just go driving around in town in coloured clothes singing at the top of their voices.
While people are indulging in the fun and frolic, foodstuffs like papri, kanji-ke-bare,gujia, preparations of meat, boiled sliced eggs, tea, coffee and, of course, hard drinks are freely served to known groups. There is much dancing and singing, the old and young join in the merrymaking. Lunchtime heralds the closing of the festival and everyone is tired and sleepy. A good scrub and shampoo are now needed to wash off the colour as much as possible and it is time to see oneself in the mirror, clean again.
Some also celebrate the death of evil minded Pootana. The ogress tried to Lord Krishna as an infant by feeding it 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 cessation and end of winter.
In South India, people worship Kaamadeva- the god of love and passion for his extreme sacrifice. According to a legend, Kaamadeva shot his powerful love arrow on Lord Shiva to revoke his interest in the worldly affairs in the interest of the earth. However, Lord Shiva was enraged as he was in deep mediation and opened his third eye which reduced Kaamadeva to ashes. Though, later on the request of Rati, Kaamadeva's wife, Shiva was pleased to restore him back.
There is no puja associated with Holi, except putting a little colour on the faces of the gods,at the beginning of the festival.
On the eve of Holi, called Chhoti or Small Holi people gather at important crossroads and light huge bonfires, the ceremony is called Holika Dahan. This tradition is also followed in Gujarat and Orissa. To render greatfulness to Agni, 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.
Play of Colors
Great excitement can be seen in people on the next day when it is actually the time for the play of colours. Shops and offices remain closed for the day and people get all the time to get crazy and whacky. Bright colours of gulal and abeer fill the air and people take turns in pouring colour water over each other. Children take special delight in spraying colours on one another with their pichkaris and throwing water balloons and passers by. Women and senior citizen form groups called tolis and move in colonies - applying colours and exchanging greetings. Songs, dance on the rhythm of dholak and mouthwatering Holi delicacies are the other highlights of the day.
Expression of Love
Lovers too long to apply colours on their beloved. This has a popular legend behind it. It is said that the naughty and mischievous Lord Krishna started the trend of playing colours. He applied colour on her beloved Radha to make her one like him. 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.
Ecstasy of Bhang
There is also a tradition of consuming the very intoxicating bhang on this day to further enhance the spirit of Holi. It is so much fun to watch the otherwise sober people making a clown of themselves in full public display. Some, however, take bhang in excess and spoil the spirit. Caution should therefore be taken while consuming bhang delicacies.
After a funfilled and exciting day, the evenings the spent in sobriety when people meet friends and relatives and exchange sweets and festive greetings.
A description of the dandia would be appropriate at this stage.The dandia is a white cotton sari, preferably of voile or mulmul, the edges of which are coloured with a nonfast colour known as Indian pink. The dandia is made by dipping the gathered sides (all four) and letting the colour catch on to 2 to 3 inches of cloth, on all sides.
All the sides are done in turn. The colour spreads in uneven splendour and makesinroads into the cloth in the middle to a limited extent. When this cloth is dried, the middle can also be designed making small paisley designs or anything else that one likes. After it is dried, a full length of gota (gold or silver bordeer about 2 to 3 inches in width) is stitched on to the dandia. The portion covering the head and the pallu end also has a kiran attached to it, thus giving it more shimmer. (Kiran means finely cut edges of a silver or gold border, a must for a bride) Dandia is usually accompanied by another sari, blouse and petticoat when given to a married daughter of the house. Dandias are also made for the unmarried daughters. Making a dandia is difficult these days, so this problem is solved by getting a sari printed in pink and attaching gota kinari to it. This dandia is worn for playing Holi and gets into quite a bad state, especially on a new bride, but it is a must for her. The older ones prefer to wear it only for Rang Pashi.
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 even religions participate in this joyous and colouful festival and strenthen the secular fabric of the nation.
This year Holi falls on 20th March 2011.