As this vibrant festival of colors approaches us, it becomes paramount to share a few thoughts, or rather facts about it. We, the millennial Indians, are seldom curious about what caused these festivals to originate and flourish as they do today. So, to make your work a little easier and to help you impress your elders by indulging in better-informed conversations, we decode the festival of Holi for you!
The mythology behind Holi:
We are all acquainted with the basic story behind celebrating Holi, being that of cherishing the victory of good over evil. If the legends are to be believed, an egoistic king named Hiranyakashyapu ruled the earth once and demanded people to worship him- whether or not they liked it. However, it was his own son Prahlad, who acted as an instrument of God to ax his ego by becoming a worshiper of Lord Krishna over his own father, so every time this evil king tried to kill his son, Lord Vishnu would save him.
One fine day, Hiranyakashyapu decided to end it once and for all by demanding his sister Holika to lure Prahlad into sitting on her lap amidst fire, knowing full well that Holika possessed the boon of staying untouched by fire. But as the grace of God would have it, Holika was reduced to ashes as her intentions were sinister, while Prahlad walked out unharmed as he was chanting the name of God all the while and was pure.
With that being said, people even today on the occasion of Holi, curate plays depicting this wonderful tale in the most dramatic ways. Though the festival of Holi is celebrated generally everywhere across India, it being such a diverse land, there are special towns in various states that celebrate it with much vigor and in their own diligent ways.
Usually, Holi is a two-day affair- starting on the eve of Phagun Purnima or a full moon day of the spring season when a huge holy fire is worshiped following which the next day people bathe one another in colors and water, drink ‘bhaang’ and dance their way through afternoons. There is an air of innocent mischief and fun all around.
Mathura & Vrindavan- The most revered destinations for Holi:
Interestingly this festival is a big deal in Mathura and Vrindavan. These places are said to be Lord Krishna’s childhood abode. Here, the celebrations start a week prior to Holi, when Mathura hosts a cultural show enacting various mythological plays and a huge procession across the state. It is because here Holi epitomizes the inexplicable bond of love between Radha and Krishna. Also, various renowned temples of Mathura and Vrindavan offer you the liberty of playing Holi in their premises.
Barsana’s unique take on Holi:
Another such intriguing village is the birthplace of Radha called Barsana. The reason why the celebrations here are distinctive is because, in the two days of Holi, the men of Nandgaon come to Barsana to tease the women here mimicking the mischief of Lord Krishna towards Radha who would do the same. And later the women of this village chase away these men with sticks while men protect themselves with shields just like Radha and her friends would chase away Lord Krishna back to his place.
On the next day, the celebrations end in Nandgaon as the women of Barsana play colors with those men to mark the last leg of the festival. This entire affair called ‘Lathmar Holi’ is done in good humor and start at the Ladliji temple in Barsana where the idol of Radha Rani stands with aplomb.
Celebrate Holi the cultural way at Shantiniketan:
Holi, according to some parts of India, also marks the arrival of spring. The inhabitants of Shantiniketan of West Bengal, especially the students, believe the same and thus wear flowers as jewelry along with their traditional dresses. Folk dances, cultural dramas, and programs are their way of celebrating the riot of colors. This kind of Holi celebration was initiated by the great Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore.
A power-packed ‘Hola Mohalla’ at Anandpur Sahib:
The Sikh way of celebrating this festival is obvious from the Hola Mohalla festivities in Anandpur Sahib. Initiated by Guru Gobind Singh, the festivities include marvelous exhibitions of skilled martial arts, along with throwing colors on one another, dancing to the beats of Dhol, and traditional kirtans. The bravado celebrations are pumped with much testosterone unlike most other unique celebrations of Holi.
Holi with a royal touch at Udaipur & Jaipur:
Nothing spells regality and vibrancy like these Rajasthani states of Jaipur and Udaipur. The celebrations are initiated by the current heir of Mewar, who ignites the holy fire in the most extravagant manner, following which the common people begin playing with colors at the break of dawn. Flamboyantly decorated horses, camels, and elephants take to the street along with the dancing folk who lose themselves in the sweet melodies of a celebratory flow.
Simple yet soulful Holi at Hampi:
Like all the others, Hampi in Karnataka also has its own take on Holi. Hampi decorates all of its heritage pride in vibrant hues of Holi colors. The locals, as well as tourists, play with colors, dance on the streets. Then they take a cleansing dip in the river on the second day of the 2-day festival to have a good time.