India is a colorful country with diverse cultures and traditions. During festivals, the country becomes one grand celebration of majestic proportions. One such festival that generates a lot of excitement among the masses is the festival of colors, Holi.
The festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil, brings people together as bonds of friendship and family strengthen while broken relationships are mended by forgetting the past and embracing the future, and marks the end of winter with the arrival of spring. Holi tour packages for different cities are very popular at this time of the year.
Various Hindu legends are the source of the festival with the legend of the god Vishnu considered the most symbolic one. According to it, god Vishnu saved his follower Prahlada from his evil aunty and father by appearing as an ‘Avatar’ to restore ‘Dharma’. The Holika bonfire ritual, performed a night before the celebration of Holi with colors on the following day, signify the fire that burned Prahlada’s aunty Holika while god Vishnu’s appearance as Narasimha, half-human and half lion, to kill Prahlada’s father King Hiranyakashipu, signify the victory of good over evil.
Another legend from the Braj region, where Lord Krishna grew up, is also very popular. According to it, Lord Krishna, who had developed a peculiar dark blue skin, was worried if Radha would like him. He complained to Yashoda, his mother, that nature was very unkind as it had made him dark and Radha fair. Tired of seeing her son getting desperate, Yashoda asked him to go and color Radha’s face with any color of his choice. Lord Krishna obliged and did exactly what his mother suggested thus starting the custom of applying colors to each other.
This also paved way for a unique tradition of Lath Mar Holi in Braj. After Lord Krishna had applied color on Radha’s face, other ‘gopis’, cattle herders whom he flirted with, got angry and chased him with cane sticks called lathis. The tradition continues till today as men visit the town of Barsana, where the legend occurred, only to be welcomed by women who hurl sticks at them while men try to take cover and shield themselves as much as they can. Other Hindu traditions related to Lord Shiva, wife Parvati, god of love Kama, and his wife Kamdevi signifying Holi have many forms, particularly in Southern India.
Regardless of the tradition due to which Holi is celebrated, it has great cultural importance in the country. The festival is also celebrated with great enthusiasm by Indians living in other parts of the world like Nepal, USA, UK, South Africa, Mauritius, the Caribbean Islands, etc. Even the local populations in these countries have indulged in this colorful festival as it is a great way to celebrate togetherness and harmony.
‘Gulaal’, the red powder is the primary color used in Holi. Traditionally natural colors are used as these are considered to have medicinal benefits to deal with the viral fever and cold that are commonly caused due to weather changes in spring. Medicinal herbs like Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, etc are used to make colors like green, red, yellow, orange, blue, brown, black, and purple. Eco-friendly colors are also used extensively these days. Along with dry colors, people also use water guns and colored water balloons to target each other.
Music, dance, and food also are also an integral part of the festival along with colors. The ritual of Holika Dahan or bonfire witnesses people singing and dancing around the fire the night before Holi. The celebrations continue next day from the morning as people revel in the festivities. Different tunes of music play while people throw colors at each other and exchange snacks and sweets like pakoras, gujiyas, mathris, malpuas and other delicacies. Thandai, an almond based chilled drink, is also an integral part of the celebration. It is also consumed in an intoxicated form when mixed with bhang which is made from cannabis.
Every region in India has its own peculiar way of celebrating the festival however what binds the nation together is the spirit of Holi that encourages goodwill and warmth among people. The festival also brings lots of travelers from different parts of the world to the country as vibrant colors make for a great India tour. People from all walks of life and all age groups come together to celebrate this fascinating festival of Holi, a festival that justifies India’s claim of ‘unitiy in diversity’.
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