Indian Holi Festival Tradition


culturallyours podcast Indian Festival Of Holi Tradition

Indian Holi Festival Tradition

Show Details

In this episode, Karthika explores the Indian festival of Holi which is also known as the festival of colors. Holi is a spring festival which is celebrated all over India with much gusto and enthusiasm. A festival which derives its origins from Indian mythology, Holi is a celebration of good over evil. People throw colors, water and even flowers as they mix and mingle and generally have a great time. Today Holi is not only celebrated in India but also all around the world as a way for people to welcome Spring and happiness with all the colors flying around.

Show Notes

Karthika explores the traditions of Holi which is an Indian festival of Spring. Known around the world as the festival of colors, Holi is played with water, gull (pink color) and even flowers. A tradition that is deep rooted in Indian mythology, Holi has a lot of cultural significance in India and is celebrated in several unique ways around the country. The vibrancy of colors is something that brings in a lot of positivity in our lives and Holi being the festival of colors is actually a day worth rejoicing.

The Transcript

Ask anyone about traveling to India in the spring and the first thing that they ask is about Holi which is known as the Indian festival of colors. While it is true that India and Indian culture has countless festivals and ceremonies, none is celebrated with so much gusto than Holi. In fact, Holi is considered as one of the most revered and celebrated festivals of India and it is celebrated in almost every part of the country.

Often compared as the Hindu and Sikh equivalent of Carnival, Holi is a spring festival and it is celebrated predominantly in India and Nepal. But these days it has also spread to other areas of Asia and even parts of the Western world. Chances are if you have an Indian community near where you live or an Indian temple, they probably have a Holi celebration scheduled for this week. It is often known as the ‘festival of colors’ or the ‘festival of love’ as on this day people get to together to sing, dance, play with colors, water and just generally have a good time.

Like many other festivals in India, Holi also signifies a victory of good over evil.

So today on the CulturallyOurs podcast, we will explore this lively and colorful festival and the tradition of celebrating Holi – what does it signify, its history and how people in India and elsewhere welcome the change of seasons with Holi.

The History of Holi

As per ancient Hindu mythology, Holi is associated with the legend of an Indian king.

Hiranyakashipu was a ruler in ancient India who was like a demon. He wanted to take revenge for the death of his younger brother who was killed by Lord Vishnu (one of the three most important gods in Hinduism). So, to gain power, the king prayed for years and years. He was finally granted a boon for his devotion and penance. But with this boon, King Hiranyakashipu started considering himself God and asked his people to worship him just like they would a God. Now this cruel king has a young son named Prahalad, who was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu. Prahalad had never obeyed his father’s order and kept on worshiping Lord Vishnu.

The King was so hard hearted that he decided to kill his own son, because Prahalad refused to worship him. He asked his sister ‘Holika’, who was immune to fire, to sit on a pyre with Prahalad in her lap. Their plan was to burn Prahalad. But their plan did not go through as Prahalad who was reciting the name of Lord Vishnu throughout the ordeal was safe because Lord Vishnu kept him safe. But Holika was not so lucky. She got burnt to ash.

The defeat of Holika signifies the burning of all that is bad. After this, Lord Vishnu killed King Hiranyakashipu as well. But it is actually the death of Holika that is associated with Holi – the victory of good over evil.

Holi and its association with colors

The reason why the festival of Holi is associated with colors is also part of ancient Indian tradition. This actually dates back to the mythological period of Lord Krishna (who is a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu). It is believed that Lord Krishna used to celebrate Holi with colors. He would play with his friends in his hometown of Vrindavan. They used to play pranks all across the village and thus made Holi a community event that everyone regardless of religion participated in. That is why till date Holi celebrations at Vrindavan are considered the best in the country. In the old days, colors used to be made with flowers and primarily used shades of pink called ‘gulal’. Even today in some temples in Vrindavan, Holi is celebrated with flower petals instead of chemically processed colors.

Holi celebrations

Holi is a spring festival that is meant as a goodbye to the long cold winters. Generally celebrated in March, the actual date tends to vary based on the Hindu calendar which is very different from the Gregorian calendar. In some parts of India, the celebrations are also associated with spring harvest. Farmers after seeing their stores being refilled with new crops celebrate Holi as a part of their happiness. The vibrancy of colors is something that brings in a lot of positivity in our lives and Holi being the festival of colors is actually a day worth rejoicing.

Holi is one of the oldest Hindu festivals and it had probably started several centuries before the birth of Christ.

The festival begins with Holika Dahan which translates to the destruction of Holika. The ritual is celebrated by the burning of bonfires that take place the night before. This tradition is mostly followed in regions including North India, Nepal and South India and signifies the death of Holika – the triumph of good over evil. Wood burnt in the bonfires are collected days in advance, while an effigy of Holika is also typically placed on top of the pyre.

The next day which is the main portion of the festival is called Rangwali Holi which translates to Holi of colors. Those taking part in the festivities cover each other in colors and also pour water in buckets or even via water filled balloons. In many parts of North India, Bhang which is a drink made with milk and a paste from cannabis plants, is traditionally consumed during the celebrations.

Holi in India

The best places to celebrate Holi in India really depend on what kind of experience you want to have. You’ll find activities taking place almost all over India, but they range from traditional temple rituals to modern day block parties complete with a DJ, lots of bhang and boat loads of colors.

Some of the more unique celebrations take place in

#1 In Barsana in Uttar Pradesh where part of the Holi celebrations include the women beating up the men with sticks.

The women in some of the villages near Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh beat up men with sticks, in what’s known as Lath-mar (beat up) Holi celebrations. But sadly, there are a lot of reports of women being groped and mistreated by the men during and after the lathimar events so for all the female travelers out there who want to go and experience this event, be advised of this.

#2 Mathura and Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh where a more traditional form of Holi is celebrated 

Holi celebrations start about 40 days before the actual Holi day in the temple tows of Mathura and Vrindavan – places where Lord Krishna was born and lived. In the main Krishna temple Holi is also played with flowers instead of colors and water.

#3 Shantiniketan, West Bengal starts Holi celebration in a more cultural way

The celebration of Holi as a spring festival in Shantiniketan was started by famous Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Inspired by spring and the colors of Holi, he introduced the occasion as an annual event to his students there. There is typically a huge cultural event with traditional dance and song before the actual Holi celebrations with colors.

#4 Anandpur Sahib, Punjab has a unique spin to Holi in a very athletic way 

In Anandpur Sahib in Punjab which is in the northern part of India, you can experience Holi with the Sikh community. But instead of throwing colors you will see a demonstration of physical agility. There is wrestling, martial arts, mock sword fights, acrobatic military exercises, and turban tying.

#5 Udaipur in Rajasthan celebrates Holi in a very grand and regal fashion

In Udiapur which is a city in the state of Rajasthan, you can join in celebration of Holi with Udaipur’s Mewar royal family. There is a magnificent palace procession from the royal residence to the city palace and often included decorated horses and a royal band. Later the traditional sacred fire is lit and an effigy of Holika is also burnt.

#6 Hampi, Karnataka celebrates Holi 

As Holi is primarily a North Indian festival, it’s quite subdued at most places in the south. The focus is mainly on religious aspects and temple rites. However in the temple town of Hampi in Karnataka the whole town turns out to play Holi in the morning amid drumming, dancing, and throwing of colors.

Regardless of where in the world you are, chances are you might have access to a Holi celebration. Take it as a sign to enjoy the coming Spring season, mingle with friends and family, get drenched in colors and water and just generally have a good time. I would love to know if you have ever been to a Holi celebration or plan to do it this year. Hit me up on DM or leave us a message via our website.

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