Holi – Festivals of India

Holi is an ancient Hindu religious festival, known as the festival of colours or the festival of love. The festival is said to signify the victory of good over evil, and the arrival of spring. It’s celebrated all over India and now around the world, and is all about partying and enjoyment.

Holi is look upon as one of the most significant and oldest Hindu festivals. Various illustrations in the form of sculptures in some of the ancient temples and caves give an insight to the origin of Holi as a festival. Many Hindu scriptures also tell the story of how Holi came to being. Like all other Hindu festivals, Holi is intricately linked to tales from mythology. Though exact origin of Holi is not known, but several historians have claimed that Holi celebrations were introduced by Aryans. This is the reason Holi is celebrated with immense gaiety in the more Aryan dominated regions of the country. But the over the period of ages, Holi has spread across the sub-continent of India and even abroad. In modern times, Holi is known as a ‘festival of colors’ everywhere in the world. But few know about the origin of Holi, which dates back to centuries.

The stamp issued  from a painting by Aakash Anand, which captures the spirit of Holi, India‘s most colourful festival. Holi celebrates the arrival of spring and is symbolic of the victory of good over evil. It is also a celebration of joy and hope. The artist has re-created the mood of vibrant joy, through images of dance, music and festivities. The colours used are bright and the execution is bold. The painting had stood first in the nation-wide Stamp Design Competition held in October 2002.

Holi is also known as Phagwah , Festival of Colours, or Doḷajātra in Odisha, and as Dol Jatra or Basantotsav (“spring festival”) in West Bengal and Assam. Holi is of particular significance in the Braj region, which includes locations traditionally connected to the Lord Krishna: Mathura, Vrindavan ,Nandagaon, and Barsana, which become tourist destinations during the season of Holi.As per the Hindu calendar, Holi is celebrated on the Phalgun Purnima which comes in February or March in the Gregorian Calendar.

History behind Holi Festival

Legend of Holika and Prahlad
Once there was mighty demon king named ‘Hiranyakashyap’, who had conquered the three worlds of heaven, earth and underworld and had thus, become very arrogant. Drunk with pride, he thought he could even defeat Lord Vishnu and therefore decreed his kingdom to stop worshipping Vishnu and pray him instead. But his little son Prahlad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, refused to adhere to this law. This incensed the king and he ordered his soldiers throw Prahlad down a mountain which would kill him. But Prahlad continued to pray and surrendered himself to Lord Vishnu, who, appeared in the last moment and saved the boy. Agitated by this, Hiranyakashyap asked the help of his evil sister Holika, who had boon to walk into fire unharmed. Prahlad was then made to enter fire with his aunt, but then the brother and sister forgot that Holika could come out intact only if she entered alone. Thus, perished Holika and Lord Vishnu saved Prahlad yet again. Till today people prepare a bon fire, which represents Holika and throw cow dung, shouting obscenities to insult the evil aunt.

Legend of Radha and Krishna
This legend depicts the immortal love of Radha and Krishna, through which is celebrated every year through the festival of Holi. Once young Krishna complained about his dark complexion to his mother and asked for the reason why Radha is fair. His Mother Yashoda advised him to apply color to Radha face and see how her complexion would change. So, a young and naughty Krishna played a prank by throwing colors at gopis or the cowgirls. Thus, originated the festival of colors, Holi.

Legend of Kamadeva
When Lord Shiva married his love interest Sati, against the wishes of her father, Daksha Prajapati, one of the first sons of Lord Brahma, the couple was not invited to a grand yagya arranged by him. But Sati thought that her father would not mind her presence and therefore went to participate, despite Shiva’s warnings. Upon reaching there she found that her father had not yet forgiven her or her husband and insulted the latter. An enraged Sati realized her mistake and as penance for what she had done burnt herself to death. On hearing the news of the death of his wife, Lord Shiva was infuriated and in order to control his anger he renounced everything and began severe meditation. But this led to misbalance on earth as Shiva was the protector, without whom the world would crumble. Meanwhile, Sati was reborn as Parvati and tried to win Shiva’s heart and awaken him. When all her efforts went in vain, she appealed Kamadava, the Indian cupid-god, for help. In response, Kamadava shot a love-arrow into Shiva’s heart which disturbed his trance and woke him. An angered Shiva opened his third eye which launched fire and destroyed Kamadeva. Later, when Shiva understood his blunder, he blessed Kamadeva with a second life and immortality in invisible form. Therefore, many worship people Kamadev for his sacrifice on the day of Holi.

It is interesting learn how several incidents which took place at different places and times led to the origin of Holi. Each legend has its own significance and contribution to the festival. Therefore, on the basis of each of these legends several customs have arisen and are practiced till date.