A traditional Hindu festival celebrated mostly in India and Nepal, Holi is a worldwide symbol of love with the rainbow-coloured celebrations spreading across the globe. With the festival dates changing each year to coincide with vernal equinox, this year Holi is celebrated on the 24th of March. We take a look at the legends behind the festival’s beginning and the ways in which Holi is celebrated.
An ancient religious festival, Holi is a celebration of good overcoming evil. The origins date back to the story of prince Prahlad and how he defied his arrogant father King Hiranyakashipu. The King demanded everyone worship him as a God however Prahlad stayed loyal to Lord Vishnu despite his father subjecting him to cruel punishments. On the eve of Holi, people gather and light bonfires to symbolise when Holika, Prahlad’s evil aunt, attempted to burn Prahlad but as she was using her powers for evil was instead devoured by the flames. The next day once the ashes had cooled, people applied ash to their forehead which is still done today. Over the years the addition of colour powder to this ritual has created the vibrant scenes of Holi we are all so familiar with. Now, in good humour, this has escalated to people throwing colour bombs filled with vibrant dye, squirting each other with water pistols and smearing vivid dye on each other’s faces.
As well as celebrating this triumph of a virtuous spirit triumphing wickedness, Holi marks the start of spring and acts as a reminder of the importance of love, happiness and new beginnings. Hindus use this time to put to rest the bad feelings of the past 12 months, instead looking forward with prosperity to what the year ahead holds. The spirit of Holi is fun, joyous and cheerful. Travellers flock to India to take part in the merrymaking and enjoy an authentic experience of the country’s lively and welcoming culture. For visitors taking part the locals treat them as one of their own, chasing them down the streets and cheerfully bombarding them with colour bombs of vibrant hues. This merriment takes over the cities with people filling the streets, parks and outside the beautifully decorated temples. The energetic and boisterous day winds down in the afternoon, with people washing the rainbow of colours off themselves, sobering up and getting dressed ready for an evening visiting friends and family.
Whilst the energetic and joyful atmosphere stays the same across India, celebrations differ from city to city. Delhi, the country’s capital, is the heart of festivities and is practiced with extreme enthusiasm. In the Bhi Tribes of the northwest, the revelry is slightly calmer with bonfires lit and villagers collecting flowers and grains. It is also the time when young people of the tribes can start relationships which will lead to marriage – the start of new families.