Essence of Holi …over the years
For many Indians, Holi is synonymous with playing with the coloured powders of abeer and gulal, consumption of thandai, a milk-based drink spiked with bhang (cannabis) for the adventurous, and savouring gujjiyas (sweet deep-fried dumplings made with suji or maida and stuffed with sweetened khoya) prepared with the entire family pitching in. This is the time for musical baithaks for fans of thumris that extol the love of Radha and Krishna.
Also known as Phagwa, Dol Purnima or Gaura Purnima, the festival begins on Purnima, full moon day, in the Hindu month of Phalguni (February/March) and can last from two to 16 days.
It depends on who you are and what you believe in. Interestingly, for Bihari Muslims, Holi or Phagua is celebrated as the New Year. Almost all Indian cultures celebrate four main festivals based on Harvest, Spring, New Year and Monsoon. These are celebrated regardless of any religion. In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, parts of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Jharkand, Holi marks the New Year and the advent of the spring season (Basant). Many communities light bonfires on the eve of Holi. An effigy of Holika, sister of demon king Hrinakashyap, is burned, as Holi is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. Holi celebrates the coloursof spring, love and forgiveness. In some regions of South India, Kama Dahan from the Shiva Parvathi marriage episode is observed. All these connections might be coincidences or bear some relation, but regardless of that, these are celebrated with great fervor.
The interesting ways in which Holi is celebrated in different parts of the country throws light on the rich cultural diversity that is the essence of India:
Lathmar Holi of Vrindavan
Women of Barsana (Radha Rani’s village) beating Nandgaon (Lord Krishna’s village) men with lathis (sticks) is the highlight of this festival. Men who get caught are made to dress like women and dance in public. Legend has it that during the days preceding Holi, Krishna visited his beloved Radha and ended up teasing her friends. The women of Barsana reacted by chasing Krishna with sticks.
It is celebratedfour-five days before Holi in Vrindavan, Nandgaon, and Barsana.
Multiculturalism is so well embedded in India that Holi was adopted and adapted to followers of Sikhism in the 1700s. The 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh believed that the festival should be used to showcase the martial skills of the community. Since then, Hola Mohalla is celebrated with feats of physical endurance, including martial arts displays, wrestling and mock sword-fights.
For Kumaonis in Uttarakhand, Holi is one of the most important festivals. It signifies the victory of good over evil, the end of the winter season and the start of the new sowing season that holds great importance for this hill community. Holi in Kumaon is a musical affair and is celebrated as a Baithak Holi, Khari Holi and Mahila Holi, starting from Basant Panchami. The evocative songs that are a mix of melody, fun, and spiritualism capture the essence of this festival of love and happiness. Some of the songs are based on classical ragas.
Holi Ashes in Varanasi
Varanasi on the banks of River Ganga is regarded as the city of moksha (salvation) and most devout Hindus visit it in their lifetime to wash away their sins. A little-known ritual here may shock outsiders. After priests and devotees offer bhang, fruit and flowers to the deity, they use ash from cremation pyres, often mixed with colourful gulal, to throw at each other and smear it on each other’s faces. The tradition is indicative of the local culture, where death is not something to be feared, but is a path to salvation.
Idols on Swings
In some parts of Bengal, the festival is called Dol Yatra. The idols of Lord Krishna and Radha are paraded on swings, with devotees jostling for a chance to swing them. Men throw the coloured powders of abeer and gulal, while the women sing religious songs and dance around the swings.
Elephant Festival in Jaipur
The Pink City of Jaipur celebrates Holi with characteristic pomp and flair, the highlight of which is the Elephant Festival. Colourful parades, pretty maidens, playful tugs of war and elephants—doesn’t this create a picture of royal grandeur?
Those who really enjoy the festivities, don’t just remain spectators, but participate in the merry-making, and let go of inhibitions. Dance with a child-like innocence, play with colours, get drenched in rain dance and savour the taste of traditional Indian fare of gujjiyas, thandai, puri-bhaji and dahi bhalla.
PLAY SAFE, SWACHH & SWASTHYA HOLI
We all know that Holi is celebrated with colours, water, food, fun and music. However, many times, we tend to ignore the harmful impact on environment, people, animals and birds caused by our irresponsible acts. On the day of Holi, we throw colours, water balloons, plastic canons and dirty our homes, cities, wells, ponds, parks, streets and buildings. This not only leads to water shortage but also to health crisis, for animals and for people too. Many animals and birds drink the coloured water that impacts on their health and may turn fatal for some. Many rummage through garbage where rubber, plastic waste and hazardous toxins are present. We should play Holi carefully, and ensure that no colour or chemicals harm the air, water or soil.
As responsible citizens, we need to preserve water and use natural home-made colours.
We should abstain from buying chemical colours and minimise the harmful impact of celebrating this beautiful festival. Here is wishing all a very happy Holi to everyone. Jai Hind!