Spring in India ushers in the festival of colours, Holi. At the advent of the vernal Equinox, Indians, and in particular Hindus in North India, gear up for the festivity. The buzz in the markets is palpable. Both shopkeepers and shoppers are busy with the buy-and-sell of colours. Tempting aromas of sweets and savoury delicacies waft out of homes as people prepare for the festival. Nature adds to the mix too. Post the bleak wintry spell, the vernal timeframe is marked by tender green leaves, fresh flowers and an array of hues in the sprong landscape.
There are several myths associated with this Hindu festival. One is that of the Hiranyakashyap, a demon who demanded that everyone be his devotee. His son Prahlad chose otherwise and worshipped Lord Vishnu. Enraged, Hiranyakashyap ordered his sister, Holika to burn Prahlad. But by a turn of events, Holika was burnt to ashes, and Prahlad saved by sheer dint of his devotion. Another story states that children drove off an ogress, Dhundhi at the eve of Holi. Hence Holika Dahan, the fire burnt on the eve of Holi came into being. There is a third myth. Pootana, a female demon was to kill the Hindu god Krishna by feeding him poisonous milk on orders of Kansa, Krishna’s uncle. Instead Krishna brought about the death of Pootana.
Given India’s diversity, the celebration is also varied regionally. Let me describe the euphoria, dividing the landscape crudely into four regions.
The Braj region in Uttar Pradesh gears up the most for Holi. According to Hindu mythology, Krishna was born in Mathura. Mathura and Vrindavan worships Lord Krishna on this day. Holi is celebrated over a span of 16 days. In Kanpur, the span is 7 days. On the 7th day, you can experience Ganga Mela. Going back in time, this fair started as a protest against the British decree against the festival of Holi. A town near Mathura, Barsana celebrates Lath Mar Holi, an unusual spectacle. Traditionally, women chase off men with sticks and men sing provocative songs for women. The songs are written purely in the local language. The entire town is in a celebratory mood of the seasonal fest. In Kumaoni region of Uttarakhand, you can see that it is a musical affair. Songs based on different ragas are sung.
In Bihar, the festival is called Phaguwa. People light bonfires on the eve of Phaguwa. Cowdung cakes, fresh harvest, wood of different trees and leaves are thrown into the fire. Folk songs are sung. Intoxicating bhang is widely consumed by the Bhojpuris. You can even find the intoxicant mixed in food. Holi or Dol Jatra in Bengal is celebrated in a aesthetic mood. They worship the Idols of Krishna and Radha. In the morning of the Dol, young people, clad in saffron, sing and dance, while throwing powdered colours at each other.The head of the family observes a fast, while offering prayers to Krishna and Agnidev. In Bengal, the day is often marked by a plethora of delicacies. In Odisha, you can see Lord Jagannath is worshipped in a grand manner.
A two day affair by the name Dhuleti, Gujarat celebrates this as the agricultural flavour of the Rabi crop. In Ahmedabad, there is a unique feat that is performed. An earthen pot filled with buttermilk is hung at a height. People break it by forming human pyramids. This is symbolic of Lord Krishna’s tendency to steal butter as a kid. Shimga, in Maharashtra, is a week long celebration. Marking the end of evil, this is performed on the day of Ranga Panchami.
The festival is not celebrated as much as in the north of India. Nevertheless, people do celebrate this. In Kerala, it is called Ukkuli, celebrated at Gosripuram Thirumala temple. In Karnataka, you can catch a glimpse of Bedara Vesha, a folk dance performed in the nights of the festival days. In Tamil Nadu, the festival has a different aspect to it. Stars by the names of Uthiram and Pournami appear together. They celebrate this day as the anniversary of several mythological deities. Vasanthosavam is the local term used for Holi.
Though diverse in the ways of celebration and the legends behind the festival, there is a common thread that you can find everywhere in India. Families and friends utilise this time as a day to get together and spend some moments in unabashed celebration. Many people come home from abroad during this time for the sheer excitement and euphoria that this fiesta generates. This joie de vivre is the harbinger of Vasant (in Hindi) or Spring in India.
After reading about Holi, would you like to experience it in real life? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to plan a holiday in Delhi or Rajasthan to join in the Holi fervor.
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