The Festival of Colours popularly known as Holi is an ancient Hindu Festival, celebrated mostly in Nepal, India, and some parts of Asia and Europe. The festival has its origin in the Indian subcontinent and signifies the entry of spring season after the winters.
The article below talks in brief about the origin of Holi, its significance in Hinduism and Nepali culture.
What is Holi?
Holi in English generally means the festival of colours, the festival of love, or the festival of spring. The first evening is called Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi, and the day after that is known as Rangwali Holi, Phagwah, Dhulandi, or Dhuleti.
The festival is celebrated for over 24 hours, starting from the evening of Purnima or Full Moon, that falls in the Hindu month of Phalguna, according to the Vikram Samvat Calendar.
As per the English calendar, Holi falls during the mid of March of every year.
Holi according to Hindu Mythology
There are several reasons why people celebrate Holi in Nepal and India.
The most fabled reason behind the celebration of Holi is Holika Dhan or the Burning of Holika. According to chapter 7 of Bhagavata Purana, King Hiranyakashipu was blessed with special powers which rendered him invulnerable to death.
The King of Asuras (demons) was blessed by Lord Brahma and gave him powers by which he couldn't be killed by a human or an animal, neither during the day or nighttime and neither indoors nor outside outdoors. Further, Hiranyakashipu couldn't be killed in land, water, or air and weapons were all ineffective towards him.
Owing to this gift, the emperor grew arrogant and ordered everyone to worship him like God. However, his word was defied by his own son, Prahlada, who was big devotee Lord Vishnu.
The King tried to punish his son using several harsh methods, which were all ineffective towards Prahlada. Then one day, Holika, the sister of Hiranya and Prahlada's aunt suggested that the boy sits in her lap inside a burning pyre.
Holika possessed a special cloak that protected her from fire, but as the fire roared the cover flew off, and Holika was burned to ashes, while no harm came to Prahlada.
It was then at dusk, Lord Vishnu appeared before King Hiranya, as the Narasimha, half-man and half-lion. Narasimha placed him on his laps at the doorsteps of the palace and killed him with his claws.
The Holika Dahan and Holi represent the win of good over bad.
Story of Lord Krishna
In some parts of India like Braj, the festival is celebrated as Rang Panchami and signifies the love of Lord Krishna and his devotee Radha.
As an infant, Krishna drank the poisonous milk from demoness Putana's breasts, which later gave him a dark complexion. The lord was unsure whether Rdaha, the fair-complexioned maiden liked him or not.
Mother Yasodha, tired of Krishna's regular questions about his skin and Radha, forces him to ask the question directly and to paint his face any colour she wanted him to be.
Since that day, Radha and Krishna became a couple, and the playful colouring of their faces is remembered as Holi.
Legend of Kama and Rati
The significance is also linked to Lord Shiva according to some Hindu traditions. Shiva was buried in his meditation, away from the worldly woes and had given up his godly duties.
Goddess Parvati was concerned about Shiva and sought the help of the Kamadeva, the Hindu god of love. Kamadeva approaches the God of Destruction and shoots a cupid arrow at him.
The attack breaks Shiva's meditation, which then opens his third eye and burns the God of Love, to ashes. Upon hearing this Parvati and Rati, Kamadeva's wife, both get upset.
Rati then meditates for forty days and begs Shiva for his forgiveness. Impressed by her devotion, Shiva forgives Kamadeva and restores him to his godly form.
Hence the 40th day of Vasanta Panchami is celebrated as Holi, especially in South India.
Significance of Holi
As per the Hindu literature, Holi signifies the victory of good over evil, especially the win of Lord Vishnu over Hiranyakashipu.
This day marks the end of the winter season and the arrival of the spring season. The use of water and holi colours or powders signifies the bright and colourful nature of spring. It is looked upon as the blossoming of love, playing, laughing, forgetting, forgiving, and repairing broken relationships.
Who celebrate Holi?
The festival of colours is famous, mainly in the South-Asian countries where the dominating religion is Hinduism. It is celebrated in most parts of Nepal and India.
Holi is observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Newar Buddhists, and also by people from non-Hindu backgrounds. Owing to the rising popularity of Holi, this festival is celebrated by almost everyone and is marked by throwing colours and water at each other.
Nepal once organised the first-ever Tomatina festival, the La Tomatina Squeeze and Throw Party, in 2014, during the occasion of Holi.