Steeped in mythological and social nuances, Holi easily is the most colourful and joyous of all Indian festivals. It is believed that the festival ‘Holi’, also known as ‘Holaka’, ‘Dol’ or ‘Phagwa’, existed several centuries before the birth of Christ. The festival figures in vivid descriptions in early Hindu religious scriptures like Jaimini’s Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. As per the purnimanta estimation, Phalguna Purnima was the last day of the year that heralded ‘Vasanta’ or spring. Thus, the initially full-moon (‘raka’) festival of Holika gradually became a festival of fun, frolic and merrymaking, in anticipation and greeting of the upcoming spring season. No wonder Holi is also known as Vasanta-Utsava and even Kama-Utsava.
Holi, the great Indian festival of colour, is not only symbolic of the very diverse and colourful fabric of Indian democracy, but has great many ancient mythological overtures associated. Like the tradition of burning ‘Holika’ or ‘holika dahan’ or ‘nera pora’ (as it is known in Bengal), derives its reference from the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. Prahlad worshipped Vishnu, much to the ire of Hiranyakshyap, who with the help of his sister Holika, planned to kill Prahlad. Holika enjoyed the God-gifted boon of complete immunity from fire. Hence, Hiranyakshyap entrusted her with the task of carrying Prahlad into the lap of a blazing fire. But devotion triumphed over unholy intent. Prahlad, a staunch devotee of Vishnu, came out unscathed from the fire, which eventually engulfed Holika. Playing to the tradition, children still create a ruckus, hurl abuses and play prank at the time of the ‘dahan’.
Some believe Holi is the celebration of the annihilation of ‘rakshashi’ Pootana, the vicious female form of devil that tried to kill Sri Krishna by feeding poisonous milk to him during his infancy. Some also believe that Holi marks the occasion of chasing away of the evil Ogress Dhundi, from the otherwise peaceful kingdom of Raghu, by a throng of brave and smart children. In Southern India, during Holi, people celebrate the great sacrifice of Kaamdeva, the Lord of Passion, who at the behest of all other Gods and Goddesses, risked his own life to retract Lord Shiva from the state of his deep cosmic meditation, in order to save the world from an impending catastrophe.
Holi also celebrates the legend of Sri Krishna and Radha. Legend has it that, Krishna, a perennial prankster, took extreme delight in applying colours on his playmates including Radha and other ‘gopinis’. Even today, this prank of applying smudges and sprays of riotous colours onto their loved ones remains favourite among Indians celebrating Holi.
In some parts of Eastern India, especially in Orissa and West Bengal, Holi or Dol Purnima is commemorated and celebrated as the birthday of the legendary Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, with a lot of colour and socio-religious fervour.
It is evident that all of these mythological references essentially depict the quintessential idea of triumph of good over evil – lending the core philosophy to the festival of Holi. Holi, probably being the least religious of all Hindu festivals, almost announces couple of days of complete disregard for traditional social norms and uninhibited indulgence involving music, dance, colours, food, celebrations and general merrymaking. A time when both nature and man leave the gloom of the chilly winter behind to herald and rejoice the colours of life associated with the onset of spring. It’s the time when social restrictions of religion, caste, creed, status, gender and age loosen, it’s the time when troughs are filled and bridges are built, it’s the time when the narrow walls of social divides are brought down with complete disdain. It’s the time when the pledge of human love is embraced. It’s the time of bonding and making way for new hopes. It’s also the time of GIFTS!
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