Mutli-cultural Indian society celebrates a variety of festivals.
India is a multicultural, multi-religious, multi-caste and multi-linguistic society. Most of the countries in the world have homogeneous societies. It is a wonder for a citizen of any other country visiting India to see how these heterogeneous groups are living as one nation. Diversity in unity has come to stay as the basic feature of the Indian society. It is the driving force behind the progress of nation which we call India. Owing to the multicultural nature of our society and each of the members of different cultural and religious groups having their own traditions to celebrate their festivals, India has been rightly considered to be the land of festivals. Not even a month passes, when we celebrate either our local or national festivals. Being a very large geographical entity and having different climatic conditions, there are many local festivals which are either connected to the harvesting of crops or religious myths. Besides, there are national festivals which are celebrated by one and all throughout the length and breadth of the country. Some days are celebrated to commemorate the birth or the death of religious and political leaders. Some festivals in India are similar in nature but are celebrated with different names in the different parts of the country. Holi is the Hindu festival based on legends and is celebrated on the national level in India and the Central government and many state governments declare a holiday on this day.
Origin of the Holi Festival
Holi is one of the important national festivals of India which has a legendary background. Holi is a very ancient Hindu festival. It is said that this festival started even before the Christ and reference to its celebrations are found in the religious works of Jaimini's Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutra. We find the depiction of the scenes of Holi in the sculptures and painting of ancient Hindu temples at various places in India. A prince and princess along with many maids with syringes in hands are seen drenching the royal couple in a sculpture found in a temple at Hampi, the capital of the Vijayanagar kings in south India. In Bengal and Odisha, Holi Purnima is celebrated to commemorate the birthday of Shri Chaitanya Mahabrabhu who lived between AD 1486 -1533. The celebration of the Holi festival is based on a few legends. The three legends are the legend of the Holika, the legend of the killing of Kamadev by Lord Shiva and the legend related to the story of the female monster Dhundi. Another legend pertains to immortal love of Lord Krishna and Radha.
Legend of Holika
Most important of the legends on which the Holi festival is based, is the legend dealing with how Holika, the sister of King Hiranyakashyap who wanted himself to be worshipped rather than any other god or goddess. He had a son named Prahlad who became staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. Angered by his son's behaviour, he wanted to kill his son and perhaps wanted to test the powers of Lord Vishnu if he could save his devotee.
Hiranyakashyap took the help of his sister Holika to accomplish his wicked desire. It is said that Holika had a blessing from Lord Brahma that she will not be affected by the burning fire. So, in order to kill Prahalad on instructions from her brother Hiranyakashyap, she took the child in her lap and walked through the burning fire. However, Prahalad was not harmed by the grace of Lord Vishnu but Holika was burnt to death in the fire. She did not know that Lord Brahma's blessing would be effective only when she walked in the fire alone. So the Holi festival became symbolic by making a bonfire of wood and dry cow dung and burning in it the effigy of Holika representing evil. A practice of throwing cow dung on the burning effigy of Holika by shouting curses on her by the people around became a tradition.
The legends of Kamadeva and Dhundi
The legend which goes about Kamadeva is most popular in the south. Kamadeva is referred to as the god of love. It is believed that Kamadeva shot his love arrow at Lord Shiva to disrupt his meditation. Lord Shiva got angry and opened his third eye and burnt the body of Kamadeva into ashes. Later on the pleas of Kamadeva's wife, Shiva restored the mental image of Kamadeva. To commemorate this event, Holi is celebrated in many parts of the south India. Many people worship Kamadeva on this day with mixture of mango flowers and sandalwood paste.
The legend of Dhundi says that Dhundi was female monster who troubled children in the kingdom of Prthu. She had secured several boons for gods to become invincible but was also cursed by Lord Shiva. She was chased away on the Holi day by the village youngsters with their shouts and abuses which could not save her due to the curse of Lord Shiva.
The legend of Radha-Krishna
Holi, especially in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh is celebrated to commemorate the immortal love Radha and Krishna. Mathura happens to be the birth place of Lord Krishna where he spent many days of his childhood. It is said that during his childhood days, Lord Krishna used to complain to his mother Yashoda about the fair complexion of Radha against his own black complexion. Yashoda used to advise her young son to apply colour on Radha's face to change her fair complexion and turn her complexion like him. So the custom of throwing colours on each other started. As such colourful Holi is associated with the childhood pranks of throwing colours on one another from the childhood days of Lord Krishna. Thus Holi is associated with the Divine Dance of Lord Krishna which is more popularly known as Raaslila.
When and how the festival Holi is celebrated
Holi is a boisterous and a festival of shouts, singing and dancing. The time of the year when it is celebrated is also suited to the occasion. The winter season is just over and the spring season sets in with the flowers blooming all over. Holi is celebrated during the Hindu month of Phalgun also known as Phagwah. The Holi festival falls on the full moon day of this auspicious month. According to the English calendar, it usually falls in the month of March. The air during this time is pleasantly warm. This is quite a favourable season to play with coloured water which is an integral part of the celebration. Holi is most appropriately known as the festival of colours all over the world. In ancient times, the people used to make their own gulal organically which did not harm the skin. Now a days, most of the colours are made from chemicals some of them are quite harmful to the skin. A few days before, we find many shops dealing with the selling of colours and other Holi related gadgets like the syringes (pichkaris) etc. Groups of people move from place to place visiting friends and relatives carrying colours to throw on them. The friends and relations they visit will also be ready with dry and water colours to greet them. Many people move about with beating of drums, singing and dancing. The shouts of Holi Hai (It is Holi) can be heard from all sides. The most favoured colour is gulal (vermillion) which is sprinkled dry. People embrace and hug one another. Holi greetings of love and brotherhood are exchanged. The festivities are more active in the morning hours and by evening everything is calm and normal.
Though Holi is celebrated all over India and also in many parts of the world, Uttar Pradesh state in which the birth place of Lord Krishna is located stands first in the celebration of this religious festival. At Barsana in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, there is unique method of celebrating Holi called "Lath maar Holi" in which the women folk chase and beat their male counterparts in the sprawling grounds of the temple of Radha Rani. The other famous centres of Holi celebration in Uttar Pradesh are Mathura, Vrindavan, Agra, Hathras, Aligarh and Gorakhpur. In Bengal and Orissa, Holi is known by the name do Purnima.
Holi is mostly celebrated for 3 days in India. The celebrations on the first day are on the full moon day named as the Holi Purnima. Powdered colours are beautifully arranged in an open plate (thali) and coloured water is poured and kept in a small pot called 'lota' in Hindi. The festival begins with the sprinkling of colours on each member of the family by the eldest male member of the house. The others then engage in throwing colours or applying tilak of colour on one another. The second day is called 'Puno' Holi when as per the traditional legend of Prahalad, the images of Holika and burned where the people gather around the huge bonfires, dance and sing. There is a tradition of carrying the babies by their mothers who make five clockwise rounds of the bonfire in order to get their babies blessed by the goddess of fire 'Agni'. It is the boisterous and merry-making third day called Holi 'Parva' which is more popular among all especially the youth and the children. The people visit one another's houses with coloured powders which are smeared on the faces and bodies of one another. Syringes (pichkaris) and balloons are used to throw coloured water on each other. The devotees of Radha and Krishna smear the faces of these deities to pay respects to them.
Some precautions to be taken during Holi festival
In order to ensure that the Holi festival is celebrated with the desired goodwill, harmony, peace, friendship and brotherhood, it is necessary that some precautions and advisories are kept in mind by the Holi revellers:
• People playing with colours should avoid throwing colours on any unwilling person who is not interested to participate in the colour throwing revellery.
• Though there is a proverb "Don't mind, it is Holi" (Bura mat maano, Holi Hai) but one should not go to such extremes that it creates a bad taste among one another.
• Some people resort to drinking of liquor and other intoxicants while playing Holi which should be avoided.
• Teasing and passing of obscene remarks on any one should be avoided.
• Some people resort to throwing of muddy water or other dirty water on others which should not be done.
• Care should be taken to buy and use only standard colours. The chemicals used in colours may harm the skin and especially the eyes. Avoid throwing of colours into the eyes of someone. Most colours are made of oxidised metals and industrial dyes which are harmful to our skin. The toxic colours sprayed by the Holi revellers flow to the drains and nullahs and mix with underground water contaminating the same. Awareness campaigns about the bad effects of these colours should be undertaken.
• Some people consume bhang (poppy leaves) which gives a sort of intoxication and they try to give this to others also stealthily and this may create bad feelings on others who are intoxicated with this without their knowledge.
• Though it is a time to spread pollution around with no one questioning you, a care should be taken to limit it to the roads and not spoiling office floors or household items and clothes.
Holi spreads a message of brotherhood and unity
A message of brotherhood and unity is conveyed through the warm hugs of Holi. People of different religions, especially the youth celebrate Holi together and greet one another. The message of Holi is to forget all the past differences and start afresh with a new vigour of friendship and love. Historical tales reveal that even the staunch enemies become friends on this auspicious occasion of Holi. The message of Holi is to chase away the evil and work for good of everyone.
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