Bright colors, big smiles, and festive tunes served with a side of bhang (a local cannabis drink)—we're not talking about Mardis Gras here, we're talking about Holi: the Hindu spring festival of colors celebrated each year in India.
My first memory of this festival of colors is from when I was a toddler and my older brother put fluorescent shades on my skin. I screamed "bloody murder," determined to get back at him with colored powder packed within my tiny palms.
Not much has changed since then. Holi continues to be celebrated with the same passion and fervor in my house (and in most houses in North and West India), and I’m glad to see it has spread its colorful wings around the world.
Photo courtesy: berlin-enjoy.com
Since 2012, Berlin has its own Holi celebration every July, Moscow had theirs in June two years ago, and the UK came on board last year for a summer fiesta with the festival of colors. Now, there are independent organizers like Holi One, who set up various festival parties across Europe, Africa, and the Americas—not just for Indians abroad but for the local population too. If the kaleidoscopic vision of colors looks familiar to you, it's because you perhaps saw its portrayal in Coldplay's Hymn For The Weekend earlier this year.
Around the world, millions celebrate Holi in their own way; but for Indians, the Spring festival is a way for the farmers to welcome their crops, ward off evil, and celebrate abundance. Typically, Holi is celebrated on a full moon day in March, and this year, it is on the 24th.
Have You Heard The Holi Story?
As with most festivals and celebrations in India, Holi has lots of stories surrounding its origins. What's common among all of them, however, is the triumph of good over evil. One of the most popularly believed stories is the tale I listened to as a child. Here it goes...
Once upon a time, there was a powerful devil king called Hiranyakashipu. He wanted to rule the country and become the God that everyone worshipped. However, much to his despair, his son, a young boy named Prahlad, was devoted to the Lord Vishnu, one of the most significant deities in Hinduism. Hiranyakashipu decided to commit filicide with the help of his sister Holika, who had been given a blessing by the Gods so that fire could not destroy her. Hiranyakashipu then arranged a large bonfire celebration, and asked for Holika to sit with Prahlad to ensure his child burned to death. However, it was Holika who perished in the fire as Lord Vishnu himself had saved Prahlad.
Yeh, it's an intense origin story, but ultimately good triumphs, and that's something worth celebrating.
Holi In India
The festival is traditionally celebrated across two days. On the first day, a large bonfire is lit, prayers are said, and a garland made of dry cow dung is burnt to signify the burning of evil from your home. On the second day, you throw bright colors (in the form of dyed powder) and water on your loved ones, while legitimately downing copious amounts of bhang, food, and sweets. The bright cacophony of colors and revelers covered in dye is probably what you associate with Holi, if you associate anything at all. That's just one part of the celebration, however, but the most memorable for sure.
Photo courtesy: photos.oregonlive.com
Tricks Of The Trade From A Holi Veteran
- If you're planning to celebrate Holi, protect your skin and hair by slathering on plenty of oil or cold cream beforehand, so that the color doesn't stick—unless orange nails and blue hair is the look you're going for this spring. :-)
- Also, wear plenty of suncreen, as the combination of color and water when you're outdoors can severely dehydrate your skin, cause abrasions and infections, and make it itchy and inflammed.
- A sun tan is pretty common after a day of Holi, so rub the flesh of a lemon, as well as some baking soda or yogurt on your body, because they're all-natural bleaching agents and will help even out your skin tone.
- Try using organic colors made with vegetable dyes and food coloring as they're better not just for you, but for the environment too.
- Eat enough before you run out to play because that bhang on an empty stomach is going to knock you right out!
In the end, you've got to remember that the festival is not just all about having fun; it's a way for families to get closer and spend more time together. As for me, it's my one time to get back at my brother for all the grief he gives me through the year—all in the festive spirit, of course.