When the cool breeze lovingly caresses skin on dusky evenings, when the full moon standing lonely up in the sky unknowingly makes mysterious patterns with the jasmine leaves and when a solitary cuckoo sings amidst the mango boughs, my ears strain to hear somewhere far away the faint beating of drums and the humming of traditional Holi songs.
It’s March and Holi is at the threshold…how do we feel after having spent the springs of childhood long back? Do we still feel the ripples that moved within us at the very mention of this lovely festival? When my friends say they are no longer kids to play Holi I am filled with a sense of wonderment. Do we need to be kids to enjoy life?
What makes Holi special is the magnitude of fun associated with it. Unlike most festivals, Holi has very little to do with tedious rituals. It celebrates spring; it celebrates life. Historical evidence suggests that Holi is one of the oldest festival which has so profoundly been represented in sculptures, paintings and murals.
Many of us must have spent long summer afternoons in our childhood, listening to the interesting tales of fairies, witches and gnomes. If we try to recall some of them, quite a handful would turn out to be the ones related with Holi.
The tale of Dhundhi
Dhundhi was a sorceress who used to scare children in the kingdom of Prithu. Having been blessed by Lord Shiva, she was almost invincible, but under a curse she was susceptible to the abuses and pranks of village children. It is said that the village boys were finally successful in chasing away Dhundhi on Holi day by shouting at her and hurling at her with all kinds of abuses. This is the reason why foul language is not taken as an offence on Holi and people say “Bura mat mano Holi hai”!
The lore of Radha and Krishna
Having a beautiful and fair companion in Radha, Krishna always suffered from the complex of being dark. He would complain again and again to his mother about the injustice done by nature towards him. At this, one day his mother suggested him to smear the face of Radha and his own with the same colour and hence become like her! The mischievous Krishna at once set out to throw colour on Radha and all fair Gopis, thus giving birth to the tradition of Holi. Perhaps this is the reason why Holi is celebrated with such fanfare in Braj and Mathura, the places associated with Krishna.
The story of Holika and Prahlad
Long back there was an ambitious demon king called Hiranyakashyap who rule the earth. He ordered all his subjects to worship no God but him. But much to his dismay his own son Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Narayana and refused to worship his father. When the father realized that his son’s attitude would injure his self-imposed image of greatness, he decided to get him killed. But Prahlad had the blessing of Lord Narayana and hence all attempts to get him killed failed.
Finally Hiranyakashyap sought the help of his sister Holika who had the boon by which she could walk through fire unscathed. But when Holika entered fire with Prahlad, she was reduced to ashes and Prahlad who was chanting the name of Lord Vishnu all the while, came out unharmed! Holi perhaps derives it`s name from Holika and celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
The legend of Kamadeva
After the death of his consort Sati, Lord Shiva was so shocked and hurt that he went into a deep meditation and stopped looking after his worldly responsibilities. Thus, gods conspired to bring him out of his trance with the help of Goddess Parvati, who wished to marry the great lord. For this the help of Kamadeva, the God of love, passion and lust was sought. Though, aware of the consequences, Kamadeva shot his love arrow on the Lord who had mastered all the worldly temptations. Shiva was so furious at the audacity of Kamdeva that he burned him to ashes then and there.However, he was forgiven later and was blessed with immortality.
It is generally believed that Lord Shiva burned Kamadeva on the day of Holi and thus on this day Kamdeva is worshipped for his great sacrifice and is offered mango blossoms and sandalwood paste to cool off the pain of his fatal burns.
Almost all Holi traditions that we witness year after year have their roots in the ancient legends. Days ahead of Holi, children start gathering woods for lighting the Holika bonfire at the major points of the city. On the Holi eve the huge effigy of Holika is placed on the wood pile and burnt. As the fire burns brighter, people sing folk songs and dance on the rhythmic beats of the drums around the bonfires and ask the blessings of the holy fire. In some areas, people offer the first fruits, coconuts and harvest to the holy fire. The embers of this fire are then carried home and people light the domestic hearth from these embers, which is considered auspicious. Some people also give away their old furniture or junk to be burnt in the bonfire, to clear the house of clutter.
It is believed that all seasonal diseases are burnt in the Holi fire.
The main festival day is actually a storehouse of immense fun. It is a day when people are left on their own- from hurling abuses to spraying and sprinkling colours, dancing like mad, and drinking bhang laced thandai. In the evening the atmosphere becomes sober, people visit the houses of friends, and relatives, smear gulal, and exchange good wishes and seek blessings.
In this austere land of prayer, piety, and millions of gods and goddesses, where all festivals have an inalienable aura of gravity attached, Holi seems a class apart. No prayers, no rituals, no religious customs, and still celebrated in India? Must be this festival has its roots in somewhere Central Asia or may be Europe? But the answer is a big no to all sceptics and dissenters.
Holi is very much an Indian festival and has its origin in ancient scriptures. It is as old as the epics, or even older. Every aspect of this colourful festival has a deep and abiding significance.
Celebration of spring: The month of Phalgun ushers in Indian spring. Holi celebrates the end of dull grey winter months and the coming of the vibrant spring.
Burning of Holika: When the season changes, a large number of dormant viruses and bacteria suddenly become active and people start contracting all sorts of diseases. When houses are cleaned of old furniture and junk, which are symbolically thrown in Holi fire, a large number of disease causing germs are said to get destroyed.
Thanksgiving festival: Several village communities offer newly reaped crops to the fire God in form of oblations.
Medicinal significance: The colours of Holi (during good old times) had medicinal properties. Made of sandal, turmeric, neem and rose, they had a soothing effect on skin.
Spirit of oneness:
But what makes Holi most endearing is the spirit of love and affection imbibed in it. The festival removes all discrimination when the people smear each other lovingly with colours. No designer clothes, no unaffordable accessories-
Among faces painted black and blue
It’s difficult to discern who’s who.
Holi, very simply and unceremoniously reveals the golden key to happiness. The festival breaks all norms; it ignores all social inhibitions. For once, absolute freedom is given to human desires and senses. A day is given to live life as per one`s liking. From dancing like mad and singing loudly to using foul language, and from playing with colours to doing all mischief- one day in a year makes us small innocent kids.
Holi is not a festival-its freedom and so it must be celebrated and experienced-for this occasional balm is a must for our anxious, overworked and perplexed souls.