The festival of colours, laughter, and merry-making is just around the corner. While most of us youngsters book our passes for the biggest Holi party in town, and stock up on our supply of “thandai”, very few of us know what it is that we are celebrating. Like most festivals, Holi has lost its actual meaning and significance, yet it sticks around because who doesn’t need another reason to party? For those who are still interested in knowing though, here’s why the festival of Holi is celebrated.
As most festivals are in India, Holi has a mythological significance that denotes the victory of good over evil. The most popular legend is of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. Hiranyakshyap was a powerful king who considered himself to be god and willed everyone to worship him. To his great disappointment, when his son Prahlad was born, Prahlad became a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakshyap asked his daughter Holika to enter a blazing fire with her brother, Prahlad in her lap – Holika had been given the boon to walk through fire unscathed. Upon doing so, Prahlad was saved by his extreme devotion, while Holika had paid the price for her actions. Thus comes the tradition of burning Holika or Holika Dahan. Lord Vishnu who appeared after Holika had burned killed Hiranykshyap himself. Thus comes the legend of burning a bonfire on Holi – as a significance of burning away all evil and the triumph of good over evil.
Another legend is based on Radha and Krishna in which Krishna applies colour on Radha and the other gopis as a prank. It is believed that this is where the tradition of celebrating with colours comes from. A different legend states that young Krishna, whose skin was a dark blue colour, wondered whether Radha and the others girls would like him. Dispaired, his mother told him to colour Radha’s face in any colour and thus the festival of colours began to commemorate their love.
There are several other legends as well such as that of Ogress Pootana, and the one of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva, popular in Southern India.
Significance with Harvest
Besides the mythological legends, Holi is celebrated to mark the end of winter, and the beginning of spring. 17th century literature describes Holi as a festival to celebrate agriculture and commemorate good spring harvests and fertile land. As spring brings an abundance of colours to our world, so goes the tradition of spreading colours during Holi.
To most of us however, it is the day to get together with our friends and family, meet new people, and of course, lose our friends because we can barely recognize them! In fact, Holi has been celebrated in several places in the world, not exactly as a religious festival though. Holi has inspired many events, such as music festivals with colours, The Color Run, and some parts of the world celebrate Holi just for the mere fun of it!