The Festival of Holi


Holi, otherwise known as the festival of colours, spring, and love, is a Hindu festival that is celebrated to welcome the season of spring. It signifies the ascendancy of good over evil and is celebrated this year on Sunday the 28th to Monday the 29th of March. Holi has a captivating origin story and is celebrated differently around the world, but first let's talk about how Holi is celebrated in India.

How Holi is Traditionally Celebrated:

Like many holidays, the celebration of Holi has many steps and rituals. Although many of these traditions vary from country to country, the most traditional way Holi is celebrated is in India. Holi is organized around the Phagun Purnima (full moon days in March) which marks the arrival of the spring season. While Holi is most famously known for its ritual of playing with colours, many other important steps take place on this holiday, like lighting the Holika pyre and celebrating with delicious Indian sweets. Holi also takes place over two days, Choti Holi (The First day) which is also known as the eve of Holi, followed by the second day of Holi (known as Rang Panchami, Dhulandi, or Ranwali) where the vibrant celebrations begin. These rituals include:

Preparing for Holika Pyre:

The Holika Pyre is a big bonfire that is lit on the first day of Holi. However, before Holi even starts, preparations for the Holika pyre are already beginning. Wood and any other flammable material are gathered and collected to help the bonfire flourish when it is finally lit.

The First Day of Holi (Choti Holi):

The first day of Holi begins! After the sunset, the Holika Pyre is lit and the good times start. People gather around the pyre (bonfire) and perform Hindu prayers, exchange traditional Indian treats, and even sing and dance to Hindu Folk songs in celebration of Holi. This is called the performance of Holika Dahan or Holi Puja.

Pictured: Holika Pyre

Holi (Rang Panchami, Dhulandi, or Ranwali):

The lively night of Choti Holi has come to an end, though the celebration of flying colours has just begun. On the second day of Holi, people will take bright coloured powders (also known as gulal or arbir) and throw them at each other as a fun way to celebrate the holiday. They will begin to party as well as sing and play musical instruments such as drums or tassa drumming. People in India will play with gulal, and water balloons filled with colour. One important tradition of Holi is the mouthwatering and delectable sweets that are baked for the holiday. After all, it wouldn’t be a festival of joy if there wasn’t food! An Indian treat that is a staple to Holi celebrations includes Gujiya, a sweet dumpling filled with khoya and dried fruits. Other traditional Indian sweets baked for this holiday include Gulab Jamun, Arsa, Laddu, Sohan Halwa, Papri, Balu Shahi and more.

The After Party:

Well, the festival has officially come to an end. Afterwards, people clean themselves up and get dressed to go see their family and relatives.

Mythology Behind Holi:

After getting into the traditions of this colourful festival, we must understand the history behind Holi and why these rituals take place. Holi is celebrated to welcome the season of spring and to represent the spirit of kindness. In Ancient India, Holi was originally known as Holika. It is said that the festival began centuries before Christ. However, its rituals and traditions have changed over time. Originally, people would throw the ashes of the Holika Pyre onto each other in celebration of the Holiday, though over time, colour was used instead to add an element of fun. Did you know that long ago, married women in India would celebrate the festival to help their family prosper in happiness?

While Holi is a celebration that embodies fun-heartedness and upbeat joy, its origins stem from Hindu mythology and are much heavier than you would think. Centuries ago, there was a wicked king named Hiranyakashyap who ruled India with great tyranny and demanded praise from all. His son, Prahlad, is described as a kind and integral young boy and was also a dedicated follower of Lord Vishnu who was the protector of the universe. As a result, he rebelled against his father’s commands and bravely refused to worship king Hiranyakashyap. This began to enrage Hiranyakashyap as he was then determined to punish his son Prahlad. To do this, Hiranyakashyap called on his sister, Holika, who was gifted with a magical power that allowed her to be immune to fire. Hiranyakashyap had Holika sit in a pit of fire and then forced his son Prahlad to sit on her lap to horrifically burn him as the ultimate punishment. However, this tale took a miraculous twist, when Prahlad sat on Holika’s lap, the fire began to burn Holika instead of Prahlad. This happened because the kindness in Prahlad’s soul was able to overcome the evil within his father and aunt. This is the reason a great bonfire (called the Holika Pyre) is lit every Holi, to commemorate the power of good over evil and represent the demolishing of all corruption. Behind all of the extravagant colours and festivities, Holi is a reminder that in the end, righteousness prevails.

How Holi is Celebrated Around the World:

Holi is a celebration that originated and is most popularly celebrated in India. Though, what makes the Hindu festival so beautiful is that it is celebrated around the world in a variety of different countries and an assortment of different ways. Here are some of the ways Holi is celebrated across the world.

In Canada & America:

Neighbourhoods located in Canada or America with large Hindu populations will generally celebrate the holiday in the street, where they throw colours at one another while enjoying Indian food and live music. Hindu families may also celebrate the holiday amongst themselves and may light the Holika Pyre and perform Holika Dahan or Holi Puja in their local Hindu temple. As a fun fact, in 2017, members of the Canadian parliament took part in Holi for the first time as well.

In Pakistan:

Holi is celebrated in temples, and people will generally clean their houses and cook traditional Indian sweets before meeting up with each other to play with the colours.

In Trinidad and Tobago:

In Trinidad and Tobago, their ethnically Indian population honours their Hindu origins and their Caribbean background when celebrating Holi, by playing Caribbean music called Chowtal. This music is played with Dholak drums and symbols called Majeera.

In Guyana:

Holi is commonly called Phagwa (pag- wa). Their Indo-Guyanese population starts by planting castor oil plants about a month ahead of time so they can burn them during Holi to signify Holika. Like Trinidad and Tobago, Chowtal music is also played every Holi season. Children use colourful water jets called “pichkaris” to spray at people passing by.

In Singapore:

Holi is flamboyantly celebrated with dance parties and music. People will also partake in water showers as well as colour throwing. Holi is commonly celebrated with dancing in the rain and showers in Vodka and Champagne.

Holi is a wonderfully joyous festival that is celebrated internationally by the Hindu community every spring, be sure to partake in these fun festivities, and join in on the action next Holi Season. Happy Holi!

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