The Festival of Colors

By: Sukhmani Kaur

How would you react if you visualized a crowd of people with happy faces and clothes splattered with purple, yellow, red, and other colors in the middle of a mild spring day? If you guessed “Holi,” then you are on the dot. Holi (pronounced “holy”) is also called the Festival of Colors. It is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil and also the welcoming of spring after a cold, blustery winter in Indian culture.

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Holi started in ancient northern India and was initially known as “Holika”. In its earliest forms, it was a special rite performed by married women to invoke the blessings of happiness for their families. According to Hindu mythology, Holi honors Lord Krishna, one of the most revered Hindu Gods. Lord Krishna had a darker complexion than his girlfriend Radha. When he complained to his mother about this, Lord Krishna’s mother, Yashoda, painted Krishna’s face with color so that her son would not be upset by his darker complexion. His worshippers loved Lord Krishna so deeply that they started the festival of Holi and colored each other in honor of their beloved Lord.

Another Hindu mythology linked with Holi is that of a woman named Holika. She tried to kill a young boy named Prahlad, a favorite devotee of Lord Krishna. Holika was Prahlad’s aunt and the sister of a powerful king Hiranyakashipu who had proclaimed himself as God. The king couldn’t tolerate his son’s devotion to Lord Krishna. When Prahlad refused to call his father “God,” Hiranyakashipu got angry and ordered Holika to burn his son alive.  Holika was asked to sit on a burning pyre. However, to protect her, the king gave Holika a shawl that she could wear while she had Prahlad sitting in her lap. Holika thought that the blazing flames would consume Prahlad, while she would be saved. Lord Krishna rescued his devotee by making the shawl fly from Holika to Prahlad. People make a bonfire and pray on the eve of Holi to commemorate the victory of good over evil.

In the Hindu lunar calendar, Holi is celebrated on the full moon in the Phalgun month. The word “Holi” originates from the word “Hola” which means to offer prayers to God as thanks for a good harvest. The month of Phalgun brings spring to India with bountiful fields and blooming, beautiful flowers. People smear colored powder all over each other’s faces and clothes. They also spray each other with colored water from water guns. The colored powder is from metals and dyes mixed with oil. People also get to sing, dance, and feast. Whenever people go past one another, they chant and shout, “Holi Hai”, which means, “Today is Holi.”

Image: National Geographic