Holi- The most fun-filled and boisterous festival of colours!
Holi is really holy; an amazingly enjoyable and enthralling festival which is celebrated with great enthusiasm and vehemence at my place. The joy of being drenched with pails of coloured water and enjoying the bash with the “gulal” or “abeer” (coloured powder), the pleasure in running here and there to splash colours on your near and dear ones and your neighbourhood gang, the joy of seeing people’s face and even your pets being smeared with colours, the “pichkaris”, the clouds and aroma of the “gulal” in the air all around, the cakes, the juice, the songs, the music from the ‘jhal and dholak’ (cymbals and drums),the lip-smacking food, the “matka-breaking time”, the bhang… all in all, Holi at my place, is celebrated with as much verve and gusto as in India.
Mythological reasons behind the festival Holi
One of the reasons why Holi is usually celebrated is to welcome the new season, spring. Originally, it was a festival that commemorated good harvests and the fertile land. The new crop refills the stores in every household and perhaps such abundance accounts for the riotous merriment during Holi. There are several reason behind this festival and has various legends associated with it.
When it comes to Holi, Braj region is best known in international circuit beacause of its lathmar Holi. Holi in Braj is also known for its mythological significance. The region of Braj in Uttar Pradesh is traditionally connected to the Lord Krishna. This festival is believed to be a celebration of Radha’s undying love for Lord Krishna. Still another mythological tale states that when Lord Shiva destroyed Kamadeva, he later resurrected him for the sake of his wife Rati. This also explains the other names of this celebration – ‘Vasant Mahotsava’ and ‘Kama Mahotsava’.
However, the most important one is that of the legend of the demon King Hiranyakashyap who disliked his son Prahlad who worshipped Lord Vishnu instead of him. He attempts to kill his son many times but fails each time. Finally, the king’s sister Holika who is said to be immune to burning as a boon given by Lord Brahma (Creator) of Hindu Mythology sits with the boy in a huge fire. However, the prince, Prahlad, emerges unscathed, while his aunt burns to death. Holi commemorates this event from mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation. Thus, one day before Holi, a bonfire is lit to celebrate the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of the devotion towards God.
Holi used to be celebrated with much more enthusiasm in earlier days. Local singers and musicians started ‘phaag singing’ (the traditional holi songs) one month before the actual day of the festival. Everything was on a much larger scale. It surely is on a large scale but here in my village, the “phaag singing’ is done not for a whole month but for some days before Holi because people are busy with their work and some of the elderly people who used to organize the “holi chowtal and dhamaal” as we called it here, passed away recently and thus the new generation taking the lead, has cut the ‘phaag singing’ short, due to some constraints.
On the Eve of Holi
On the eve of Holi, a bonfire known as ‘Holika dahan’ (burning of Holika) is kindled and an effigy of Holika, made of bamboo and straw, is formally carried in a procession to the bonfire accompanied by local singers and musicians. The figure is placed on top of the pyre and set on fire. The whole village is thoroughly cleaned and all the rubbish is dumped into the bonfire making the flames leap and people dance to the intoxicated singing of ‘phaag’ or ‘phagua’ (traditional holi-songs) accompanied by the banging of drums and clanging of cymbals from different ‘tolis’ (groups) from the village. And this goes on for hours and on during the night. Holi is thus an affirmation of hope that no matter how encompassing the forces of ‘adharma’ (unrighteousness) appear to be, that eventually, by divine grace, ‘dharma’ (righteousness) will prevail and be re-established.
Holi Hai –It’s Holi!
In the morning, all the preparations for the prayers are made under the big tent that is built every year in front of my house. It is a festival full of zest celebrated for some mythological reasons but who really cares about these reasons on that day? “Put some colours in your life” – it sure sounds like a tv commercial’s line, but not quite because this is the motto for Holi and the sprinkling of coloured powder sure symbolizes the renewal of love and brotherhood. On this day, each one of us forgets enmities and meets and greets everyone with an open heart. People forget the daily routines and mundane lives and gathered to dance and socialize with each other. It is a festival of joy, a festival to get to know each other better and wash out old grievances.
In the afternoon, a small prayer (hawan or ‘yagna’) around the fire, is carried out remembering the God. Fire is very important in Indian ceremonies particularly in the ritual ‘yagna’ (sacrificial fire) in which all our physical desires and impulses are burnt to ashes by the pure flame of spiritual enlightenment lit within our hearts. Everybody in my village participates in the “Holi Mela” (Holi gathering). After the prayer, ‘gulal’ or ‘abeer’ (coloured powder) is distributed to each and every one (Yes! No need to buy anything) and we all gather for a mass colour throw. We convey our best wishes to each and every one and smears colour on each and everyone’s faces.
The organizer would start a countdown and on zero, everyone would throw random colours into the air, thus pelting everyone with all colours from all directions and the colours would keep airborne with the flowing wind. We all participate in a round throughout the village accompanied by the holi toli (group). A common feature of the festival is the vigorous singing bouts performed by groups of singers. Songs, dances on the rhythm of dholak and mouthwatering Holi delicacies are the highlights of the day and these add to the gaiety of the occasion. Special brews (the “bhang”) are prepared of milk, almond, sugar mixed with potent herbs which had an intoxicating effect on the adults.
The entire din and the commotion, the teasing and the drenching is taken in good spirit. All is forgiven during Holi. No one is immune from being drenched with coloured water. As you walk along without a care in the world, a balloon filled with coloured water can hurl from a balcony, roof-top or corner may explode on your clothes, or suddenly an unseen hand squirts you with coloured water or coloured powder. The burst of colours hit you in the face. Youngsters and even the elders run here and there to smear colours on each other. It is the most exhilarating experience as everyone is transformed into a colourful explosion. People sneaking up with buckets full of water, water balloons hitting you and you have no idea where they came from and constant running to the water pipe anytime colour gets in your eyes, all make the beauty of this festival of colour and love. The youngsters’s group and elder’s group would sing and be in a competition inventing new songs, adding Bollywood flavour to them. It is like a merry war taking place.
After some hours of merry making, there is the “Matka breaking ceremony” at the two junctions. This is the main attraction and it is a ceremony in which a group of people will break the ‘matka’ (the earthen pot) which contains loads of coins and milk and which is hung on the long height. There is a kind of competition during the Matka breaking ceremony. There are two groups, the males and the females groups. First a group of young boys tries to break the pot(Matka) by forming a human pyramid and the girls would tease them and even throw coloured water and prevent them from breaking the pot and the same happens with the girls. When the pot is finally broken, everyone tries to get the small coins which are scattered on the path. People believe that the coins from the earthen pot keep away negative powers from their homes and those who are able to get the coins consider themselves lucky and those who don’t, make sure they get into the funny competition the year after. HoIi is thus an expression of the ‘joie de vivre’ where each one forgets his worries and have fun and sure Holi is known for this immense enthusiasm and zeal.
After the matka breaking ceremony, some people will continue singing and dancing, while some adults (both men and women) would prepare the evening meal. Others will just go home to have their long baths. In the evening, everyone would gather again and we would all have a sumptuous dinner with the delicious “7 cari and ti-puri” or sometimes it’s veg briyani- a heavy meal which is yummy but could hurt the tummy if eaten too much. The aroma of the food would make you forget about your dieting for a while and you could feel the love of the ones preparing these amazing dishes in every bite and morsel of food you would have. I must say that you would surely, pleasantly get entangled in this foodie world for a while. You then realize- that there is much more than a mundane life!
Bura na mano, holi hai! (Don’t feel upset, it’s Holi !) Yayy!
Mind you, we are not from India (our ancestors are though) but we (Mauritians) do imbibe the spirit of Holi: which is playfulness and cheerfulness. The zest, spirit of freedom and exuberance that this ‘harvest festival’ stands for have gone a long way in making Holi a truly global festival. The Festival of colours sure infuses vibrancy and enthusiasm among people. And in the end, you will need the longest bath ever, full of scrubbing and still you will be walking around with traces of colour for the next few days. But it’s totally worth it!
Have a colorful day on Holi (27th March 2013 this year) and onwards! ♥
Photo courtesy: @ Google Images