Holi Festival: Revealing The Indian Culture [History And Precautions]

Posted on March 14, 2011 in Culture-Vulture


By Abhishek Jha:

O, Rang barse bheege chunar wali, rang barse… yes my dear friends,you have rightly got what I am talking about,”The vibrant festival Holi” and this year it is on 20th march. You all must be very excited to have fun with your friends and loved ones. As Holi usually comes around the same time as high school and college final exams, it is surprising to see that even examinations don’t seem to dampen the spirit of Holi in the youth. So here is a brief history of this colorful festival and how to celebrate it – the right way.

The colourful festival of Holi is celebrated on the full moon day (purnima) in the month of Phalguna and heralds the spring season. The word probably originated from a cry, shout or sound in singing. Holi is the time when people from all castes and social strata come together forgetting all past differences and grievances. In ancient India too, this festival was celebrated as a day when people forgot caste and gender differences and were allowed many liberties, otherwise forbidden. Today having lost its original significance, the festival is a favourite with most Indians for being the most colourful and joyous of all. Holi can also be termed a youth festival, as it provides an opportunity for young men and women to mingle freely and participate in dances and cultural programmes in an otherwise conservative society. The origin of this custom can be found in the pranks of Krishna, who used to drench milkmaids in the village with water and play various other tricks on them.

We all celebrate Holi but very few of us know the reason behind its celebration and origin. The day before Holi is Choti Holi or “small Holi”. The main ritual on this day centres around a bonfire (holika) ceremoniously set on fire at the time of the rising moon. This suggests that the festival is also a celebration of the “barley” harvest. On Choti Holi, they come together to light the fire and celebrate with singing and dancing. A pot of new barley seeds is buried under the pyre for roasting. These seeds are eaten after the fire is extinguished. Holika also signifies the dirt and filth that collects during the winter months.

According to a legend, Hiranyakashipu was a demon king. He wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result, she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion. This exuberant festival is also associated with the immortal love of Lord Krishna and Radha. The young Krishna would complain to his mother Yashoda about why Radha was so fair and he so dark. Yashoda advised him to apply color on Radha’s face and see how her complexion would change.

Holi is regarded as the festival of joy and colors, but one should always be on alert while playing Holi as synthetic dyes and colours that flood our markets have a very harsh and toxic effect. Children are particularly vulnerable to these inferior quality colours that contain dangerous toxins such as lead and mercury. Using these toxic colours and industrial dyes can lead to severe skin allergies and eye problems. Also, one should always remember to use these small precautions to enjoy a safe holi.

  • Do not buy synthetic colours and loose powdered dyes. Instead opt for skin friendly vegetable or natural colours.
  • Apply a thick layer of moisturizer, petroleum jelly or coconut oil on your face and other exposed parts to prevent dyes and colours from coming into direct contact with your skin.
  • Oil your hair well so that residue from the dyes does not get stuck to your hair and scalp.
  • Wear clothes with long sleeves and full length bottoms to protect your skin.
  • Stay away from intoxicants, such as bhang – especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
  • Avoid applying colour on eyes, mouth and teeth as it might lead to fatal effects.

“Bura na mano, Holi hai” (don’t feel offended, it’s Holi). While Holi is a unique celebration, one thing that amazed me the most was that this is the one time when the whole nation spends the next few days looking very colored!

Image: http://holifestivaltrip.blogspot.com/2011/02/celebrate-with-lord-krishna.html