Holi is a popular festival celebrated in the Indian subcontinent. In the Indian calendar, it is celebrated in the month of Phalgun which equates to the month of March in the Gregorian calendar. This is the time when spring begins thus known as the festival of spring. It is also known as the festival of colours because people throw different colours on one another and dance together. Due to the spreading of Indians around the world, holi is also celebrated in other countries where foreigners join in the celebrations. It is a national holiday in India.
It has a lot of historical significance. The moral of the festival is the victory of good over evil. The celebrations start in the night before holi. This is known as Holika Dahan. In this night, a bonfire is made and prayers are offered to vanquish the evil within us. The story behind holika dahan is the burning of the demoness Holika. It is described in the Bhagavad Purana that Hiranyakashipu, the King of the demons was an enemy of Lord Vishnu (God of sustenance), because he killed Hiranyakashipu’s brother. However, his son Prahlad turned out to be an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. In outrage, Hiranyakashipu tried to reform his son but in vain. Finally, he tried to kill his own son but every time his son was saved by the Lord. His sister, Holika had the boon from Lord Brahma, the God of creation that she could enter fire without being burned. She approached her brother and offered to sit with Prahlad surrounded by fire. She reasoned that Prahlad would be burnt to ashes while she would remain unharmed. However, after putting Prahlad on her lap and being set on fire, she started burning instead while Prahlad was blissfully chanting Lord Vishnu’s name. In shock, she screamed not believing that the boon was false. Lord Brahma appeared and explained to her that a boon will work only if it’s used to do a good thing. But if it’s used to do something evil, the same boon will destroy you. And thus, Holika was burnt to ashes.
Another significance of holi is from the Braj region of India, where Lord Krishna, one of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations lived. His female devotees were known as Gopis and were headed by Radha, who is said to be his other half. In his playfulness, Lord Krishna applied different colours to Radha and the gopis which then became a popular festival in their village as a festival of love between the Lord and his devotees.
In the past, colours were made from natural ingredients and were known as gulal, an Ayurvedic term due to their extraction from different herbs such as Neem and Haldi. The colours are in dry, powder form. Many of the different colours are obtained from mixing the primary colours. The coloured powders can also be added to water and put inside a sprayer which when pressed, releases the coloured water in many directions. Nowadays, however synthetic powders have replaced the natural ones. They are chemically produced industrial dyes which are cheap. But these synthetic powders contain toxins such as diesel and copper sulphate which can cause skin and eye irritation, allergies and hair damage.
One must be careful in protecting oneself from the damages caused by the synthetic colours such as
- Oiling your hair
- Covering your body as much as possible
- Being careful not to get your eyes in contact with the coloured powder.
Also, there can be incidents during the festival. Since it is generally celebrated with a huge group of people, the alcohol known as bhang is consumed. Excess consumption can lead to drunkenness and can affect the health, especially if one already has health problems. Another issue is of some men taking advantage. While people are busy with the celebration, a woman can be kidnapped and raped. Although it’s not easy being in a huge crowd but it is advised, especially for women to be around their friends and family members to avoid any embarrassing situation.
We must remember that holi is not a festival to be taken lightly. It is a victory of good over bad. It is a celebration of love. One must take it in that spirit and enjoy it.
Garima Nabh is the founder of New Age Magazine.