Holi ( होली) is a spring festival also known as the festival of colours or the festival of love. It is an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia.
As discussed in previous article (Significance of bonfire for Holi and Story of Holika) , Holi is spread out over two days. On the first day, bonfire is created and on the second day, holi is played with colors and water. In some places, it is played for five days, the fifth day is called Ranga Panchami.
The second day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated. Children and youth spray coloured powder solutions (Gulal) at each other, laugh and celebrate, while elders tend to smear dry coloured powder (Abir) on each other’s face. Visitors to homes are first teased with colours, then served with Holi delicacies, desserts and drinks. After playing with colours, and cleaning up, people bathe, put on clean clothes, visit friends and family.
Like Holika Dahan, Kama Dahanam is celebrated in some parts of India. The festival of colours in these parts is called Rangapanchami, and occurs on fifth day after Poornima (full moon).
It is primarily observed in India, Nepal, and other regions of the world with significant populations of Hindus or people of Indian origin. The festival has, in recent times, spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colours.
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 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 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. Some drinks are intoxicating. For example, Bhang, an intoxicating ingredient made from cannabis leaves, is mixed into drinks and sweets and consumed by many. In the evening, after sobering up, people dress up, visit friends and family.
Holi is celebrated at the approach of vernal equinox, on the Phalguna Purnima (Full Moon). The festival date varies every year, 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 ruptured relationships.
Holi frolic and celebrations begin the morning after Holika bonfire. There is no tradition of holding puja (prayer), and the day is for partying and pure enjoyment. Children and youth groups form armed with dry colours, coloured solution, means to fill and spray others with coloured solution (pichkaris), balloons that can hold coloured water, and other creative means to colour their targets.
Traditionally, washable natural plant-derived colours such as turmeric, neem, dhak, kumkum were used; but water-based commercial pigments are increasingly used. All colours are used. Everyone in open areas such as streets and parks are game. Inside homes or at doorways though, only dry powder is used to smear each other’s face. People throw colours, and get their targets completely coloured up. It is like a water fight, but where the water is coloured. People take delight in spraying coloured water on each other. By late morning, everyone looks like a canvas of colours. This is why Holi is given the name “Festival of Colours.”
Groups sing and dance, some playing drums and dholak. After each stop of fun and play with colours, people offer gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other traditional delicacies.Chilled drinks, including adult drinks based on local intoxicating herbs, is also part of the Holi festivity.
In Braj region around Mathura, in north India, the festivities may last more than week. The rituals go beyond playing with colours, and include a day where men go around with shields and women have the right to playfully beat them on their shields with sticks.
In south India, some worship and make offerings to Kaamadeva, the love god of Indian mythology, on Holi.
After a day of play with colours, people clean up, wash and bathe, sober and dress up in the evening and greet friends and relatives by visiting them and exchange sweets. Holi is also a festival of forgiveness and new starts, which ritually aims to generate harmony in the society.
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