Holi - Traditions and Customs


Holika, commonly called Holi is a spring festival celebrated at the approach of the spring season, during the 3 or 4 days preceding the full moon day in the month of Phagan. Holi is celebrated by throwing colors and colored powder in the air. Colorful Rangoli pattems are painted at doorways to houses. Families assemble around a fire throwing prasad and coconut in the fire. They also take home prasad. The Holi festival marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring.


Essentially, Holi means the triumph of good over evil and conquest of sensual values by spiritual values. Thus, Holi has different mythological connotations in different parts of India. lt is interesting to learn about its spiritual significance. The story relates to an ancient demoniac king in India known as Hiranya Kasyapu. He was a cruel and tyrannical ruler. All his subjects followed his orders except for his son Pralhad. Pralhad was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. This infuriated his father who wanted to punish him. The king asked Pralhad to embrace a red hot pole. But, he was unhurt. Then, he asked Pralhad to jump off a steep cliff, but was unhurt again. Pralhad obeyed his father each time chanting Vishnu's name. Hiranya Kasyapu ordered that Pralhad be trampled by an elephant. But, he was unhurt.


As Pralhad was not hurt by all the punishment, Hiranya Kasyapu called his sister Holika from the gods that she would not burn in a fire. Holika made Pralhad sit on her lap in the fire. But, this time, Holika was burnt to death and Prahlad was unhurt. Eventually, the ordeals faced by Pralhad climaxed in the emanation of Narahari or Narasimha who destroyed Hiranya Kasyapu. Again, this displayed the triumph of a true Bhakta (devotee) over the evil represented by Hiranya Kasyapu. Pralhad never lost faith in the Lord despite all his ordeals.


The tender green leaves on the trees, the blossomed flowers in the gardens and the sweet calls of the Cuckoo mark the advent of a new season that is Spring(vasant). Enriching the freshness is the festival of Holi with a splurge of colors and an aura of romance all around.


Holi announces the arrival of spring and the passing of winter. It is a festival that breathes an atmosphere of social merriment. People bury their hatchets with a warm embrace and throw their worries to the wind. Every nook and corner presents a typically colorful sight.


Young and old alike are drenched with colors (red, green, yellow, blue, black and silver). On Holi, people are suddenly caught unawares with colors being poured from atop the houses, bursting balloons, or long pistons squirting colored water. People in small groups are seen singing, dancing and throwing colors on each other.


Holi has long traditional links with several legends. According to one popular legend, the word Holi is derived from the demoness, Holika. She was the sister of Hiranyakashyap, a demon king, who having defeated the Gods, proclaimed his own supremacy over everyone else in the Universe. Enraged over his son, Pralhad's ardent devotion to Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakashyap decides to punish him. He takes the help of his sister, Holika, who is immune to any damage from fire. Holika carries Prahlad into the fire but a divine intervention destroys her and saves Prahlad from getting burned. Thus Holi is celebrated to mark the burning of the evil Holika. It is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.


Holi is celebrated throughout India but it is more predominant in North India. Preparations for the festival begin a week ahead. Houses are given a fresh coat of color, beautiful floral designs are drawn at the entrance, and powdered colors and spraying pistons are bought.


In earlier days the colors were extracted from a flower that blossoms only during this festival. And the pistons were made of bamboo sticks. But over the years colors are made artificially and pistons made of different materials are available in various designs.


Usually people burn the Holika tree on the eve of Holi. Folklore and dances are performed around the fire to welcome the new season. On the morning of Holi, people have fun with colored water. Men, women and children all participate in this merry making. In the evening, youngsters play with dry colors and seek elders' blessings.


Special dishes for the occasion is a typical fare. People visit each other's houses and savor the delicious eats, be it Dahi wada or a preparation of raw Jackfruit or the traditional Mal pua (a dessert made of maida, milk, sugar and dry fruits). Holi is as important a festival as Dassera and Deepawali. It is also distinguished in certain regions like Bengal where it is marked by performances of Dolothsava in which the image of Lord Vishnu is swayed in decorated swings and colored powder is offered to the God.


Holi is celebrated with special importance in Mathura. It solemnises the love of Radha and Krishna. The spraying of colored waters recalls the love sport of the Gopikaas and Lord Krishna.

In South India, Holi is not celebrated with as much fervour as in North India. But the spirit of communal harmony is very high. People indulge in merry-making, and playing with colored waters is a common sight. The peasants/laborers go around from house to house singing folklores and asking for small tips.


The color, noise and entertainment that accompanies the celebration of Holi bears witness to a feeling of oneness and sense of brother-hood. No other festival brings home the lesson of spiritual and social harmony as well as the festival of Holi!!


Holi is one of Hinduism's most colorful festivals. It is the spring festival of India. It occurs on the full moon day of the month Phagan (the 10th month of the Indian calendar). This is usually in April, although it can be during late March according to the Christian calendar. On this day, everyone gets dressed up and joyfully sprinkles gulal, a colored powder, at everyone else. This rejoicing is aimed at a legendary story of Holika, a demoness.


Holika was the demon sister of Hiranyakashipu, the demon king. He had a son named Pralhad. Pralhad was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. Despite his efforts, Hiranyakashipu could not stop his son's worship of the Lord. He tried several times to kill his son, but God saved Pralhad every time. Hiranyakashipu decided to burn Pralhad. He asked his sister Holika to sit with Pralhad in the fire. Holika had received a boon from God that would make her unscathed by fire. Fearing her brother's wrath, she did as she was told, but when she stepped into the fire, that boon from God ended and she was burnt to death in the fire while Pralhad remained safe. Holika was killed for trying to harm a devotee of the Lord.


The story goes on until Lord Vishnu appears in the form of a half man-half lion form. He slays Hiranyakashapu, and saves Prahlaad.


Now, many places burn a huge cardboard statue of Holika during Holi and sing and dance to rejoice. There are no major foods associated with Holi. People usually make some snack food. One snack that might be made is Chackli, a kind of pretzel.



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