Five things you didn’t know about Holi

Much like any country has their iconic festivals — La Tomatina Festival in Spain, Oktoberfest in Germany or even The Carnival in Rio, India has Holi — the closest we Indians come to having a raucous public party. As this colourful and exuberant festival nears in 2013, we’ve compiled a list of top five interesting facts to get you up to speed:

  1. There are actually several myths associated with the origins of Holi. The most common and widely celebrated however, involves a demon king Hiranyakashipu, his evil sister Holika and his son Prahlad. A devotee of Lord Vishnu, Prahlad refused to worship his father. Enraged at this, Hiranyakashipu tried to kill his son, though none of the myriad of methods he tried seemed to work. Further angered, Hiranyakashipu told his sister Holika (who had a boon protecting her from dying) to burn Prahlad on a pyre. The boy prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe and it was Holika who ultimately ended up burning. It is this significant event, the triumph of good over evil, that is commemorated as Holi each year. The name of the festival itself comes from this tale too, as ‘Holi’ literally means ‘burning’ in Hindi.
  2. Festivities commence on last full moon day of the lunar month of ‘Phalguna’ (February/March) and typically take place over two days. Huge bonfires are lit up every year on the eve of Holi (Holika Dahan) to symbolise the burning of Holika. On the second day, people indulge in general merrymaking – celebrating by smearing coloured powder (‘gulal’) and dye on others and squirting water pistols (‘pitchkaris’) filled with coloured water.
    In the spirit of fun and festivity, no one is spared – even passersby fall prey to the errant burst of colour.
  3. Even within India, Holi traditions vary enormously. In Bengal, for example, Holi is also known as the ‘Swing Festival’. The normal merrymaking and fun with colour is supplemented by a ritual of placing idols of Gods on specially decorated platforms, and devotees then take turns swinging at them.
  4. The Holi spirit transcends national boundaries and is widely celebrated around the world by Indian diaspora. Holi has a major significance within the Indian community- while on the surface it is about coming together, having fun and shedding inhibitions – being a spring festival, it also symbolises a cleansing of the soul and spirit and new beginnings.
  5. You’re never too old to play Holi – and yes, that’s a fact!

Happy Holi everyone!

By Mallika Goel

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