What is Holi?

Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, is a Hindu festival that marks the beginning of spring. It is celebrated according to the lunar calendar - in accordance with the full moon - so the dates can vary each year. This year, Holi is on march 21st.

In addition to marking the end of winter and the arrival of spring, Holi also celebrates color, fertility, love, and the triumph of good over evil.

The History of Holi

Photo via Flickr user Abhijit Kar Gupta

Holi is an ancient festival dating all the way back to the 4th century. Although a Hindu festival, Holi is now celebrated by Indians across the country. The meaning of the festival is said to have changed over time, as it was previously a special rite performed by married women for the wellbeing of their families during the full moon. Now the festival is marked by two main celebrations, each associated with a different Hindu legend.

The first aspect of Holi celebration is the bonfire held the night before Holi. The tradition of the bonfire comes from the legend of a demon king named Hiranyakashipu. The demon king wanted all of his subjects to worship him, instead of the Lord Vishnu. The demon kind had a young son named Prahalad who, despite his father's order, continued praying to Vishnu, whom he worshipped as a god. 

The demon king was enraged at his son's betrayal and hatched a plan to murder him with the help of his sister, Holika, who was immune to fire. She took Prahalad with her into the fire, but it was Holika who perished in the fire, and Prahalad who emerged unharmed. It is believed that he was saved because of his devotion to Lord Vishnu. Thus, the bonfire celebration of Holiday represents the triumph of good over evil.

The colorful aspect of the Holi festival, that we are most familiar with, was brought about by the legend of Krishna. According to Hindu belief, Krishna was the reincarnation of the Lord Vishnu. 

It is believed that Krishna, as a young boy, would torment the neighborhood girls by throwing colors and water on them. It eventually evolved into a game that all of the boys and girls enjoyed together. This is where the tradition of celebrating Holi by throwing colors and water comes from. 

The Significance of Holi

Photo via Flickr user ayaskant12

Holi is both religiously and culturally significant because it reminds the participants that good will triumph over evil. It is also a great equalizer, in that, on the day of Holi, it doesn't matter your age, your gender, or your caste, everyone takes part in the celebration. Everyone throws color and water on each other - young and old, male and female. The social restrictions normally associated with age, sex, or social status don't apply on this day. It brings everyone together. 

How Holi is Celebrated

 

Photo via Flickr user FaceMePLS
The celebration of Holi takes place over two days. These two days are filled with merriment, liveliness and fun. During Holi, we throw off the gloom of winter and celebrate the beginning of spring, and the colors, warmth, and new beginnings that come with it.
Holi is probably the least religious of Hindu holidays, because during Holi, Hindus will attend public bonfires, spray their friends and family with water and colored powders, and everyone will generally go a little wild in the streets. The evenings are spent visiting with friends and family. Everyone takes part.
Good vibes all around. A common saying that can be heard during Holi celebrations is "bura na mano, Holi hai" - "Don't feel offended, it's Holi!"