"Basanta Utsav" and "Holli" redirect here. For the film, see Basanta Utsav (film). For the ice hockey player, see Antti Hölli.
For other uses, see Holi (disambiguation).
Festival of Colours
|Observed by||Hindus,Sikhs, also some Jains,NewarBuddhists and other non-Hindus|
|Type||religious, cultural, spring festival|
|Celebrations||Night before: Holika Bonfire|
On Holi: spray colours on others, dance, party; eat festival delicacies
|Date||per Hindu calendar[note 1]|
|2017 date||Monday, 13 March|
|2018 date||Friday, 2 March|
|2019 date||Thursday, 21 March|
Holi ( ; Sanskrit: होलीHolī), also known as the "festival of colours", is an Indianspring festival celebrated all across the Indian subcontinent as well as in countries with large Indian subcontinent diaspora populations such as Jamaica, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Mauritius, and Fiji. It signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and for many a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships. It is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest. It lasts for a night and a day, starting on the evening of the Purnima (Full Moon day) falling in the Vikram Samvat Hindu Calendar month of Phalguna, which falls somewhere between the end of February and the middle of March in the Gregorian calendar. The first evening is known as Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi and the following day as Holi, Rangwali Holi, Dhuleti, Dhulandi, or Phagwah.
Holi is an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia. In recent years the festival has spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colours.
Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika Dahan where people gather, perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil be destroyed the way Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, was killed in the fire. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi – a free-for-all festival of colours, where people smear each other with colours and drench each other. Water guns and water-filled balloons are also used to play and colour each other. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. The frolic and fight with colours occurs in the open streets, open parks, outside temples and buildings. Groups carry drums and other musical instruments, go from place to place, sing and dance. People visit family, friends and foes to throw coloured powders on each other, laugh and gossip, then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks. Some customary drinks include bhang (made from cannabis), which is intoxicating. In the evening, after sobering up, people dress up and visit friends and family.
See also: Holika
There is a symbolic legend to explain why Holi is celebrated as a festival of colours in the honour of Hindu god Vishnu and his follower Prahlada. King Hiranyakashipu, according to a legend found in chapter 7 of Bhagavata Purana, was the king of demonic Asuras, and had earned a boon that gave him five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons), and neither on land nor in water or air. Hiranyakashipu grew arrogant, thought he was God, and demanded that everyone worship only him.
Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada, however, disagreed. He was and remained devoted to Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu. He subjected Prahlada to cruel punishments, none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika, Prahlada's evil aunt, tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada was not. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada, who survived while Holika burned. Vishnu, the god who appears as an avatar to restore Dharma in Hindu beliefs, took the form of Narasimha - half human and half lion, at dusk (when it was neither day nor night), took Hiranyakashyapu at a doorstep (which was neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (which was neither land, water nor air), and then eviscerated and killed the king with his lion claws (which were neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon).
The Holika bonfire and Holi signifies the celebration of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, and of the fire that burned Holika.
In the Braj region of India, where the Hindu deity Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated until Rangpanchmi in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as a festival of love. There is a symbolic myth behind commemorating Krishna as well. As a baby, Krishna developed his characteristic dark skin colour because the she-demon Putana poisoned him with her breast milk. In his youth, Krishna despaired whether the fair-skinned Radha and other girls would like him because of his skin colour. His mother, tired of the desperation, asks him to approach Radha and colour her face in any colour he wanted. This he does, and Radha and Krishna became a couple. Ever since, the playful colouring of Radha's face has been commemorated as Holi. Beyond India, these legends to explain the significance of Holi (Phagwah) are common in some Caribbean and South American communities of Indian origin such as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. It is also celebrated with great fervour in Mauritius.
Other Hindu traditions
Among other Hindu traditions such as Shaivism and Shaktism, the legendary significance of Holi is linked to Shiva in yoga and deep meditation, goddess Parvati wanting to bring back Shiva into the world, seeks help from the Hindu god of love called Kama on Vasant Panchami. The love god shoots arrows at Shiva, the yogi opens his third eye and burns Kama to ashes. This upsets both Kama's wife Rati (Kamadevi) and his own wife Parvati. Rati performs her own meditative asceticism for forty days, upon which Shiva understands, forgives out of compassion and restores the god of love. This return of the god of love, is celebrated on the 40th day after Vasant Panchami festival as Holi. The Kama legend and its significance to Holi has many variant forms, particularly in South India.
The Holi festival has a cultural significance among various Hindu traditions of the Indian subcontinent. It is the festive day to end and rid oneself of past errors, to end conflicts by meeting others, a day to forget and forgive. People pay or forgive debts, as well as deal anew with those in their lives. Holi also marks the start of spring, for many the start of the new year, an occasion for people to enjoy the changing seasons and make new friends.
Other Indian religions
The festival has traditionally been also observed by non-Hindus, such as by Jains and Newar Buddhists (Nepal).
Sikhs have traditionally celebrated the festival, at least through the 19th century, with its historic texts referring to it as Hola.Guru Gobind Singh – the last human guru of the Sikhs – modified Holi with a three-day Hola Mohalla extension festival of martial arts. The extension started the day after the Holi festival in Anandpur Sahib, where Sikh soldiers would train in mock battles, compete in horsemanship, athletics, archery and military exercises.
Holi was observed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his Sikh Empire that extended across what are now northern parts of India and Pakistan. According to a report by Tribune India, Sikh court records state that 300 mounds of colours were used in 1837 by Ranjit Singh and his officials in Lahore. Ranjit Singh would celebrate Holi with others in the Bilawal gardens, where decorative tents were set up. In 1837, Sir Henry Fane who was the commander-in-chief of the British Indian army joined the Holi celebrations organised by Ranjit Singh. A mural in the Lahore Fort was sponsored by Ranjit Singh and it showed the Hindu god Krishna playing Holi with gopis. After the death of Ranjit Singh, his Sikh sons and others continued to play Holi every year with colours and lavish festivities. The colonial British officials joined these celebrations.
Holi is an important spring festival for Hindus, a national holiday in India and Nepal with regional holidays in other countries. To many Hindus and some non-Hindus, it is a playful cultural event and an excuse to throw coloured water at friends or strangers in jest. It is also observed broadly in the Indian subcontinent. Holi is celebrated at the end of winter, on the last full moon day of the Hindu luni-solar calendar month marking the spring, making the date vary with the lunar cycle.[note 1] The date falls typically in March, but sometimes late February of the Gregorian calendar.
The festival has many purposes; most prominently, it celebrates the beginning of Spring. In 17th century literature, it was identified as a festival that celebrated agriculture, commemorated good spring harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring's abundant colours and saying farewell to winter. To many Hindus, Holi festivities mark the beginning of the new year as well as an occasion to reset and renew ruptured relationships, end conflicts and rid themselves of accumulated emotional impurities from the past.
It also has a religious purpose, symbolically signified by the legend of Holika. The night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Little Holi. People gather near fires, sing and dance. The next day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated.
In Northern parts of India, Children and youth spray coloured powder solutions (gulal) at each other, laugh and celebrate, while adults smear dry coloured powder (abir) on each other's faces. Visitors to homes are first teased with colours, then served with Holi delicacies (such as puranpoli, dahi-bada and gujia), desserts and drinks. After playing with colours, and cleaning up, people bathe, put on clean clothes, and visit friends and family.
Like Holika Dahan, Kama Dahanam is celebrated in some parts of India. The festival of colours in these parts is called Rangapanchami, and occurs on the fifth day after Poornima (full moon).
History and rituals
The Holi festival is an ancient Hindu festival with its cultural rituals. It is mentioned in the Puranas, Dasakumara Charita, and by the poet Kālidāsa during the 4th century reign of Chandragupta II. The celebration of Holi is also mentioned in the 7th-century Sanskrit drama Ratnavali. The festival of Holi caught the fascination of European traders and British colonial staff by the 17th century. Various old editions of Oxford English Dictionary mention it, but with varying, phonetically derived spellings: Houly (1687), Hooly (1698), Huli (1789), Hohlee (1809), Hoolee (1825), and Holi in editions published after 1910.
There are several cultural rituals associated with Holi:
- Prepare Holika pyre for bonfire
Main article:Holika Dahan
Days before the festival people start gathering wood and combustible materials for the bonfire in parks, community centers, near temples and other open spaces. On top of the pyre is an effigy to signify Holika who tricked Prahalad into the fire. Inside homes, people stock up on pigments, food, party drinks and festive seasonal foods such as gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other regional delicacies.
- Holika dahan
On the eve of Holi, typically at or after sunset, the pyre is lit, signifying Holika Dahan. The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil. People gather around the fire to sing and dance.
- Play with colours
Holi frolic and celebrations begin the morning after the Holika bonfire. There is no tradition of holding puja (prayer), and the day is for partying and pure enjoyment. Children and young people form groups armed with dry colours, coloured solution and water guns (pichkaris), water balloons filled with coloured water, and other creative means to colour their targets.
Traditionally, washable natural plant-derived colours such as turmeric, neem, dhak, and kumkum were used, but water-based commercial pigments are increasingly used. All colours are used. Everyone in open areas such as streets and parks is game, but inside homes or at doorways only dry powder is used to smear each other's face. People throw colours and get their targets completely coloured up. It is like a water fight, but with coloured water. People take delight in spraying coloured water on each other. By late morning, everyone looks like a canvas of colours. This is why Holi is given the name "Festival of Colours".
Groups sing and dance, some playing drums and dholak. After each stop of fun and play with colours, people offer gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other traditional delicacies. Cold drinks, including adult drinks based on local intoxicating herbs, are also part of the Holi festivity.
- Other variations
In the Braj region around Mathura, in north India, the festivities may last more than a week. The rituals go beyond playing with colours, and include a day where men go around with shields and women have the right to playfully beat them on their shields with sticks.
In south India, some worship and make offerings to Kaamadeva, the love god of Indian mythology.
- The after party
After a day of play with colours, people clean up, wash and bathe, sober up and dress up in the evening and greet friends and relatives by visiting them and exchanging sweets. Holi is also a festival of forgiveness and new starts, which ritually aims to generate harmony in the society.
Regional names, rituals and celebrations
Holi (Hindi: होली, Marathi: होळी, Nepali: होली, Punjabi: ਹੋਲੀ, Kannada: ಹೋಳಿ) is also known as Phakuwa or Phagwah (Assamese: ফাকুৱা), Festival of Colours, or Dola jātra in Odisha, and as Dol Jatra (Assamese: দ’ল যাত্ৰা) or Basanto utsav ("spring festival") in West Bengal and Assam. The customs and celebrations vary between regions of India.
Holi is of particular significance in the Braj region, which includes locations traditionally associated with the Lord Krishna: Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon, Uttar Pradesh, and Barsana, which become touristic during the season of Holi.
Outside India and Nepal, Holi is observed by the minority Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan as well in countries with large Indian subcontinent diaspora populations such as Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, Mauritius, and Fiji. The Holi rituals and customs outside South Asia also vary with local adaptations.
In Gujarat, Holi is a two-day festival. On the evening of the first day people light the bonfire. People offer raw coconut and corn to the fire. The second day is the festival of colour or "Dhuleti", celebrated by sprinkling coloured water and applying colours to each other. Dwarka, a coastal city of Gujarat, celebrates Holi at the Dwarkadheesh temple and with citywide comedy and music festivities. Falling in the Hindu month of Phalguna, Holi marks the agricultural season of the rabi crop.
In Ahmedabad in Gujarat, in western India, a pot of buttermilk is hung high over the streets and young boys try to reach it and break it by making human pyramids. The girls try to stop them by throwing coloured water on them to commemorate the pranks of Krishna and the cowherd boys to steal butter and "gopis" while trying to stop the girls. The boy who finally manages to break the pot is crowned the Holi King. Afterwards, the men, who are now very colourful, go out in a large procession to "alert" people of Krishna's possible appearance to steal butter from their homes.
In some places there is a custom in undivided Hindu families that the woman beats her brother-in-law with a sari rolled up into a rope in a mock rage and tries to drench him with colours, and in turn, the brother-in-law brings sweets (Indian desserts) to her in the evening.
See also: Lath mar Holi
Barsana, a town near Mathura in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh, celebrates Lath mar Holi in the sprawling compound of the Radha Rani temple. Thousands gather to witness the Lath Mar Holi when women beat up men with sticks as those on the sidelines become hysterical, sing Holi songs and shout "Sri Radhey" or "Sri Krishna". The Holi songs of Braj mandal are sung in pure Braj, the local language. Holi celebrated at Barsana is unique in the sense that here women chase men away with sticks. Males also sing provocative songs in a bid to invite the attention of women. Women then go on the offensive and use long staves called lathis to beat the men, who protect themselves with shields.
Mathura, in the Braj region, is the birthplace of Lord Krishna. In Vrindavan this day is celebrated with special puja and the traditional custom of worshipping Lord Krishna; here the festival lasts for sixteen days. All over the Braj region  and neighboring places like Hathras, Aligarh, and Agra, Holi is celebrated in more or less the same way as in Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana.
A traditional celebration includes Matki Phod, similar to Dahi Handi in Maharashtra and Gujarat during Krishna Janmashtami, both in the memory of god Krishna who is also called makhan chor (literally, butter thief). This is a historic tradition of the Braj region as well as the western region of India. An earthen pot filled with butter or other milk products is hung high by a rope. Groups of boys and men climb on each other's shoulder to form pyramids to reach and break it, while girls and women sing songs and throw coloured water on the pyramid to distract them and make their job harder. This ritual sport continues in Hindu diaspora communities.
Outside Braj, in the Kanpur area, Holi lasts seven days with colour. On the last day, a grand fair called Ganga Mela or the Holi Mela is celebrated. This Mela (fair) was started by freedom fighters who fought British rule in the First Indian War of Independence in 1857 under the leadership of Nana Saheb. The Mela is held at various ghats along the banks of the River Ganga in Kanpur, to celebrate the Hindus and Muslims who together resisted the British forces in the city in 1857. On the eve of Ganga Mela, all government offices, shops, and courts generally remain closed. The Ganga Mela marks the official end of "The Festival of Colours" or Holi in Kanpur.
In Gorakhpur, the northeast district of Uttar Pradesh, the day pig Holi starts with a special puja. This day, called "Holi Milan", is considered to be the most colourful day of the year, promoting brotherhood among the people. People visit every house and sing Holi songs and express their gratitude by applying coloured powder (Abeer). It is also considered the beginning of the year, as it occurs on the first day of the Hindu calendar year (Panchang).
Main article: Kumauni Holi
Kumaoni Holi in Uttarakhand includes a musical affair. It takes different forms such as the Baithki Holi, the Khari Holi and the Mahila Holi. In Baithki Holi and Khari Holi, people sing songs with a touch of melody, fun and spiritualism. These songs are essentially based on classical ragas. Baithki Holi (बैठकी होली), also known as Nirvan Ki Holi, begins from the premises of temples, where Holiyars (होल्यार) sing Holi songs and people gather to participate, along with playing classical music. The songs are sung in a particular sequence depending on the time of day; for instance, at noon the songs are based on Peelu, Bhimpalasi and Sarang ragas, while evening songs are based on the ragas such as Kalyan, Shyamkalyan and Yaman. The Khari Holi (खड़ी होली) is mostly celebrated in the rural areas of Kumaon. The songs of the Khari Holi are sung by the people, who, sporting traditional white churidar payajama and kurta, dance in groups to the tune of ethnic musical instruments such as the dhol and hurka.
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