Holi in India
If you’re a fan of experiencing colorful l+ight shows and uplifting music, perhaps it’s time to get yourself out of those Philadelphia raves and move on to something culturally richer and steeped in tradition. I’m talking about the celebration of Holi, a visually exciting period of time that comes around each year in India, in which residents and visitors alike drench themselves in colors, enjoy food in abundance, and dance through the streets.
You aren’t alone if you’ve never heard of Holi though you’re most certainly missing out on one of the “most recognizable…festivals in the world,” deems The Diplomat. Pictures have been circulating of the revelers over the past month across all forms of media, exposing why this event has been attracting more and more people annually in the recent past.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Holi is a celebration of good defeating bad, or evil and has many legends relating to the rituals that occur across the subcontinent. For starters, there’s the myth involving the demon Hiranyakashipu and his sister Holika.
According to DOGOnews, Holika had the ability to withstand fire without incurring burns, and when Hiranyakashipu found out his son Prahlada worshiped Lord Vishnu, he asked Holika to take Prahlada into a fire. Unfortunately, the plan backfired and Prahlada emerged from the fire without burns while Holika perished.
HoliFestival shares that the people of India celebrate this reduction of bad spirits by lighting bonfires “at the major crossroads of the city” the night before Holi begins, or on Holi Eve. This day happens to also be the day that beckons spring into the year, or as GoIndia describes as the “abundance of spring harvest season,” and is called Phalgun Purnima.
But where do the colors come from? Considering those colors are the most trademarked aspect of the celebration of Holi, it is a question that holds heavy weight. It is thought that Lord Vishnu, the deity who Prahlada was devoted to the other legend, was a reincarnation of Lord Krishna. Lord Krishna was, from what these sources describe, playful and mischievous and enjoyed playing pranks and having fun. Apparently, as one might expect, he teased the village girls in India by dousing them colorful water from time to time. So, to celebrate the resilience of Prahlada thanks to blessings by Vishnu, the people of the town color themselves and others with dyes using buckets, missiles, balloons, and bright powders.
Another thing Lord Krishna was interested in was buttermilk, and he would drink it up whenever he could find it. It is assumed that the women of India used to hang their buttermilk up high in the streets to keep Krishna from reaching their supplies. So, as one might expect, another tradition was birthed. HoliFestival says pots of buttermilk hang on the streets in certain regions, men form human pyramids to reach these pots, and whoever finds himself on the top of the pyramids breaks the pots in a kind of homage to the legend.
Of course, this article offers only a simplification of the many layers that the festival encompasses. Every year it happens on a different day, depending on the Moon’s cycle, and the aspects of the celebration vary greatly from region to region – with one area featuring women than beat men dressed as women and other regions focused on the birth and childhood of Krishna.
GoIndia does suggest that newcomers to the festival prepare for all that this celebration offers. The colors can stain everything and anything, depending on how they are mixed with the water and powders. It’s recommended that attendees only wear clothes that can be thrown out afterward and that hair is prepped with coconut oil to shield it from any semi-permanent saturation. It is also noted that rape and other dangerous encounters have been known to occur, as groups of intoxicated men are wont to roam the streets in the afternoon. Therefore, the wisest people travel in groups and go out mostly in the morning hours.
If you’re interested in attending Holi next year, click here for information on 2016’s festivities.