Holi: The Festival Of Colors
Holi and Music
Unadulterated Fun In India
“Happy Holi!” “Holi Hai!”
Held every year during late February or March this grand celebration of spring spreads across India with infectious joy. Also known as ‘The Festival of Colors’ and ‘Holika’, its origins are hard to pin down. Each part of India has a different legend associated with Holi and part of the fun for tourists is listening to the dramatic retelling of these good-versus-evil melodramas.
Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap
The most prominent story regarding Holi seems to be the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. Hiranyakshyap was a terrible and powerful king. He declared himself a God and expected his people to worship him as such. To his great anger his son Prahlad chose to worship Lord Vishnu instead. Because of this betrayal Hiranyakshyap asked his sister Holika, who enjoyed supernatural protection from fire, to walk into the flames carrying Prahlad. However, their evil plan backfired because of Prahlad’s devotion to the Lord. Instead he was saved and Holika lost her protection and was burned for her murderous desires.
In the days leading up to Holi piles of sticks and branches begin to form near the major intersections of the cities. On Holi Eve the bonfires are pushed into the middle of the street and set alight ceremoniously. Effigies of the evil sister Holika are burnt and there is much shouting to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Passersby on foot, on motorcycles and even in tuk-tuks light torches from the fire to take back to their homes. As darkness falls the fiery procession continues on.
The next day craziness and fun ensues as thousands of people hurl colored water at one another with reckless abandon. Strangers will alternately embrace in the spirit of camaraderie and then douse each other with everything they have. From children to the elderly everyone participates. Holi crosses cultural and social divides and brings people together in one giant celebration of the coming of spring.
One of the cardinal rules of Holi is to make sure you are well stocked with colorful ammunition. Beforehand, there are literally hundreds of vendors selling powered dyes known as gulal and abeer in all shades of green, pink, blue, yellow or red. That is why arriving a few days early is a great idea. It gives you the extra time to wander the markets and truly get into the spirit of the event.
Also, your method of delivery is important. There are old-fashioned buckets, water balloons or state of the art super soakers to choose from. (I highly recommend the super soakers. They are easy to load and are the best defense against the hoards of children who attack tourists from every direction.)
Around noon is when the color throwing starts to wind down. Locals head home to get cleaned up for parties held later in the day. Gifts are given to families and lots of sweet treats are eaten. The revelry continues late into the night with singing and dancing.
A Word Of Caution
Holi is a time when literally ‘anything goes’. A lot of social taboos in India are set-aside during this celebration and many people imbibe Bhang (a type of marijuana) and alcohol to excess. This can become dangerous in certain circumstances so use your common sense and avoid situations that become unstable.
For most Holi is a time of kinship and laughter, a time to return to the innocence of childhood and enjoy life with wild abandon. It is celebrated with special exuberance in Northern India and is certainly a festival not to be missed.