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Holi – The Indian Festival of Colours

Holi; Credit-WoodlouseThe Hindu festival of Holi is celebrated on the last full moon day (or Poornima) in the Hindu Lunar calendar month of Phalgun. The days and dates vary every year. This year, 2013, the dates are March, 27th (Wednesday) and 28th (Thursday).

The Indian festival of Holi celebrates the arrival of spring, and all things new. It is probably the oldest of Indian festivals. It has ancient agricultural origins rooted in the wish for good and abundant harvests. The festival was inspired by nature’s colours, which covers the land after the grimness of winter; thus, the alternative title of “Festival of Colours.” It also marks the bringing in of the Rabi crop.

Without question it is one of the most colourful festivals in the world and the emphasis is on all things colour. It is a festival that is celebrated right across India – and the vast Diaspora around the world. In most places Holi is celebrated over two days but in some parts (especially the state of Uttar Pradesh) it lasts for over a week.

Celebrations take the form of people smearing coloured powder on each other. The colours are predominantly red, yellow and green. The powders are also mixed with water and thrown or sprayed by pichakaris (water pistols) at each other. On the first night there is also a community bonfire. There is much singing and dancing.

The festival has also taken on religious connotations with various stories associated with its origins. A popular and widespread one revolves around Krishna and his consort Radha.  Krishna had a mischievous nature and often played pranks on people around him. He would drench the village girls, including Radha in coloured water.

The other story is about the legendary demon king, Hiranyakashyap, who tried to kill his son Prahlad. The king got his demoness sister, Holika, to carry Prahlad into a fire. She was reputedly immune to the flames. However, in this instance she died while Prahlad came away unscathed. It is a moral tale of the triumph of good over evil.

Image credit: Woodlouse

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