Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika bonfire where people gather, do religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil should be destroyed as the bonfire starts. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi – a free-for-all carnival of colours, where participants play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight. People visit family, friends and foes to throw coloured powders on each other, laugh and gossip, then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks.Some customary drinks such as those that include bhang (marijuana) are intoxicating. In the evening, after sobering up, people dress up and visit friends and family.
Holi Celebrations in different parts of India
Nowhere it is celebrated with so much charm and enthusiasm as in Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana and Nandgaon – the places associated with the birth and childhood of Lord Krishna. At Barsana Holi assumes the name of Lathmaar Holi. Here, women of Barsana give a tough time to men of Nandgaon as they come to play Holi with them. Women drag the unlucky captives, beat them, dress them in a female attire – yet all is in the spirit of Holi.
Women of Haryana, specifically the bhabhis too get an upper hand on the day as they get a social sanction to beat their devars and take a sweet revenge for all the mischiefs they have played on them. This revengeful tradition is called the Dulandi Holi.
The most enjoyable tradition of Holi, of course, apart from the play of colours is the tradition of breaking the pot. It is celebrated with much fan fair in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Here a pot of buttermilk is hung high on the streets. Men form a huge human pyramid and one on the top breaks the pot with his head. All this while women keep singing Holi folk songs and throwing buckets and buckets of water. The tradition has its roots in the mischievous nature of Lord Krishna who was so fond of butter milk that he used to steal it from every accessible house in the village. To hide the butter from young Krishna, womenfolk used to hang it high. All in vain!
Holi is celebrated in the most dignified manner in the state of Bengal. At Vishwa Bharti University, founded by Rabindranath Tagore founded the tradition of celebrating Holi as ‘Basant Utsav’ or ‘Spring Festival’. Students decorate the campus with intricate rangolis and carry out prabhat pheris in the morning. Clad in a traditional attire young boys and girls sing songs composed by Gurudev and present an enchanting view to the onlookers who gather in large number here. In other parts of Bengal, Holi is celebrated as Dol Yatra where the idols of Radha and Krishna are placed on a decorated palanquin and taken out in a procession.
For Sikhs, Holi calls for the display of their physical strength and military prowess as they gather at Anandpur Sahib a day after Holi to celebrate Hola Mohalla. The tradition was started by the tenth and last guru of Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh ji and is being religiously carried forward.
In the north east, Manipuris celebrate the festival in a colourful manner for six continuous days. Here, the centuries old Yaosang Festival of Manipur amalgated with Holi with the introduction of Vaishnavism in the eighteenth century. The highlight of the festival here is a special Manipuri dance, called ‘Thabal Chongba’.
Well, there are many-many more ways in which Holi is celebrated. Different states, different cities and different villages have come out with their unique and innovative styles of playing Holi. It may not be possible to describe all of them at one place. What is noteworthy though is the fact that the spirit of Holi remains the same throughout. It is the festival which generates the spirit of brotherhood and bring people close – and this is what matters most than anything else.
Holi Pooja Process or Holika Dahan Process
Holi Pooja takes place a day before the Holi Festival. This day is called as ‘Holika Dahan’. There is no special pooja performed on the Holi day. This day is only meant for celebrations and play of colors. Holika Dahan is the major ritual performed at the time of Holi which is also considered an important Holi Puja. People light bonfires on the eve of Holi festival to celebrate the victory of ‘good’ over ‘bad’ which is called Holika Dahan.
Holika Dahan preparations begin almost 40 days before the festival. People start gathering woods on the important crossroads of the city. Holi Pooja or Holika takes place on an auspicious time in the evening a day before the Holi festival. Given below are the steps and rituals for the Holi Pooja:
- Holi Pooja can be performed at any place.
- A log of wood is kept at a prominent public place on the Vasant Panchami day.
- People extend the log centre with twigs, dried leaves, branches of trees and other combustible material.
- On the day of Holika Dahan, an effigy of Holika and Prahlad is placed on the huge heap of woods.
- Effigy of Holika is made of combustible material while Prahlad’s effigy is made of non-combustible material.
- On the eve of Holi, the heap is set alight and the people chant Rakshoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda to cast away the evil spirits.
- Left over ashes are collected by people next morning. These ashes are considered holy and are smeared on the limbs of the body as Holi Prasad.
- Smearing of body limbs is an act of purification.
The festival has many purposes; most prominently, it celebrates the beginning of Spring. In 17th century literature, it was identified as a festival that celebrated agriculture, commemorated good spring harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring’s abundant colours and saying farewell to winter. To many Hindus, Holi festivities mark the beginning of the new year as well as an occasion to reset and renew ruptured relationships, end conflicts and rid themselves of accumulated emotional impurities from the past.
It also has a religious purpose, symbolically signified by the legend of Holika. The night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Little Holi. People gather near fires, sing and dance. The next day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated. Children and youth spray coloured powder solutions (gulal) at each other, laugh and celebrate, while adults smear dry coloured powder (abir) on each other’s faces. Visitors to homes are first teased with colours, then served with Holi delicacies (such as puranpoli, dahi-bada and gujia), desserts and drinks. After playing with colours, and cleaning up, people bathe, put on clean clothes, and visit friends and family.
In spite of being such a colourful and gay festival, there are various aspects of Holi which makes it so significant for our lives. Though they might not be so apparent but a closer look and a little thought will reveal the significance of Holi in more ways than meets the eyes. Ranging from socio-cultural, religious to biological there is every reason why we must heartily enjoy the festival and cherish the reasons for its celebrations.
Also, the tradition of the Holi is that even the enemies turn friends on Holi and forget any feeling of hardship that may be present. Besides, on this day people do not differentiate between the rich and poor and everybody celebrate the festival together with a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood.
In the evening people visit friends and relatives and exchange gifts, sweets and greetings. This helps in revatalising relationships and strengthening emotional bonds between people.
It is interesting to note that the festival of Holi is significant for our lives and body in many other ways than providing joy and fun. We also need to thank our forefathers who started the trend of celebrating Holi at such a scientifically accurate time.
As Holi comes at a time of the year when people have a tendency to feel sleepy and lazy. This is natural for the body to experiences some tardiness due to the change from the cold to the heat in the atmosphere. To counteract this tardiness of the body, people sing loudly or even speak loudly. Their movements are brisk and their music is loud. All of this helps to rejuvenate the system of the human body.
Besides, the colours when sprayed on the body have a great impact on it. Biologists believe the liquid dye or Abeer penetrates the body and enters into the pores. It has the effect of strengthening the ions in the body and adds health and beauty to it.
There is yet another scientific reason for celebrating the Holi, this however pertains to the tradition of Holika Dahan. The mutation period of winter and spring, induces the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere as well as in the body. When Holika is burnt, temperature rises to about 145 degrees Fahrenhiet. Following the tradition when people perform Parikrima (circumambulation or going around) around the fire, the heat from the fire kills the bacteria in the body thus, cleansing it.
The way Holi is celebrated in south, the festival also promotes good health. For, the day after the burning of Holika people put ash (Vibhuti) on their forehead and they would mix Chandan (sandalpaste) with the young leaves and flowers of the Mango tree and consume it to promote good health.
Some also believe that play with colours help to promote good health as colours are said to have great impact on our body and our health. Western-Physicians and doctors believe that for a healthy body, colours too have an important place besides the other vital elements. Deficiency of a particular colour in our body causes ailment, which can be cured only after supplementing the body with that particular colour.
People also clean-up their houses on Holi which helps in clearing up the dust and mess in the house and get rid of mosquitoes and others pests. A clean house generally makes the residents feel good and generate positive energies.
Celebration of the Legend
Besides having a detailed description in the Vedas and Puranas such as Narad Purana and Bhavishya Purana, the festival of Holi finds a mention in Jaimini Mimansa. A stone incription belonging to 300 BC found at Ramgarh in the province of Vindhya has mention of Holikotsav on it. King Harsha, too has mentioned about holikotsav in his work Ratnavali that was written during the 7th century.
The festival of Holi also finds a reference in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century panel sculpted in a temple at Hampi, capital of Vijayanagar, shows a joyous scene of Holi. The painting depicts a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids waiting with syringes or pichkaris to drench the Royal couple in coloured water.
A 16th century Ahmednagar painting is on the theme of Vasanta Ragini – spring song or music. It shows a royal couple sitting on a grand swing, while maidens are playing music and spraying colors with pichkaris.
There are a lot of other paintings and murals in the temples of medieval India which provide a pictoral description of Holi. For instance, a Mewar painting (circa 1755) shows the Maharana with his courtiers. While the ruler is bestowing gifts on some people, a merry dance is on, and in the center is a tank filled with colored water. Also, a Bundi miniature shows a king seated on a tusker and from a balcony above some damsels are showering gulal (colored powders) on him.
In some parts of India, specially in Bengal and Orissa, Holi Purnima is also celebrated as the birthday of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (A.D. 1486-1533). However, the literal meaning of the word ‘Holi’ is ‘burning’.