How can a festival of colours be described in black and white? Add to that the variety of ways in which it is celebrated across the country. It usually falls around the end of February or beginning of March. The Hindu Spring festival is celebrated in India and Nepal and also by the Hindu community in Pakistan. NRI’s also celebrate is in a big way as it provides them the chance to gather with the other Indians there.
What is Holi
The Hindu spring festival is traditionally a two day affair starting on the day of the full moon or ‘Purnima1’. Though primarily an Indian and Nepalese festival, Hindus all over the world celebrate it with pomp and gaiety.The festival involves splashing others with colours. Dry colour powder called ‘gulaal’ is used most commonly.
The first day is called ‘Chotti Holi’ or ‘Holika Dahan’. This ritual starts in the evening with the lighting of a bonfire and offering prayers. This is done to cleanse oneself from within and all for evil to be destroyed by the bonfire. The second day is the main festival also known as ‘Rangwali Holi’ and is a complete riot of colours. To small children, the two day affair is explained in the following manner:
- Lighting of bonfire and praying so that all the evil and impurities within us are devoured by the fire. This is the process of cleansing ourselves from within.
- Playing with colours and water is symbolic of cleaning our outer selves.
This explanation may or may not explain the true story of Holi, but it surely makes sense to young minds and also makes for some good old fashioned storytelling by the grandmother.
The day starts with people decently applying a pinch of the dry colour powder on one another’s forehead or cheeks, but soon turns into a free for all demonstration of one’s ability to throw water balloons and marksmanship with water guns. People of all ages unabashedly take part in this commotion and in a few hours, faces are hardly recognizable. It alsoprovides an excellent opportunity for people to play pranks on friends and family members without the fear of detection. Even complete strangers are not spared in the fun and frolic of the moment.
The different ways of celebration
Just as there are numerous colours, there are also as many ways this festival is celebrated. Some are outright hilarious, to the onlookers at least. In many parts, a pot of buttermilk is hung high up on the streets and boys forming a human pyramid try to break that pot, while the girls keep throwing water colours and other colourful missiles in order to “defend” the pot. This is symbolic of Lord Krishna trying to steal the butter and the “gopis” trying to defend it.
In the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, the most outrageous celebrations take place which also includes violence of sorts. The men sing provocative songs just to grab the attention of the women. The “enraged” women beat the men with wooden staves or “lathis” who have a sort of wicker baskets as shields to protect themselves. Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna also falls in the Braj region and the festival of Holi is a long drawn affair across sixteen days. Various ‘pujas’ are offered during this period culminating with a special function on the last day.
Singing, dancing and enjoying with everyone are common ways of celebrating this festival. While there may be many ways to celebrate the same festival, the underlying theme remains the same, which is to promote harmony and joy and also to spread it to as many people as one can.
Around the world
The festival is not limited to India and Nepal alone. It is also celebrated in a lot of countries where Indians have taken root. Labourers’ who were taken there during the colonial era and settled in those places gave rise to communities of Indian origin. Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Fiji and Mauritius are some examples. Holi, though known by different names is either declared a holiday or is celebrated on the closes Sunday to the actual day so that the entire population and not just the Hindus can enjoy that day.
Environmentalists or Party Poopers?
Off late, there have been many sections of people who have been raising the question of
Environmental destruction caused while celebrating Holi. The large bonfires everywhere add to the air pollution. Water, which is now scarce in many areas, is wasted. The colours used have harmful and long lasting effects causing skin diseases. Their calls for a more responsible and environmentally friendly way of celebrating haven’t fallen on deaf ears entirely. However, a large number of people still continue to celebrate it in the traditional ways.
The festival date is determined by the Hindu calendar, hence it is celebrated on a different day each year. However, what remains constant is the zest that people celebrate it with and the camaraderie it fosters.