The 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, 2014, the dates are March, 16th (Sunday) and 17th (Monday).
While Holi is a universal festival, in India it goes by different names with variations in the theme and the way it is celebrated. This facet of Holi mirrors the numerous linguistic differences and distinct cultural identities of India.
A popular and widespread origin for the festival revolves around Krishna. Krishna had a mischievous nature and often played pranks on people around him. He would drench the village girls, including Radha in coloured water.
To commemorate his pranks the women gather at the Radha Rani Temple in Barsana, Mathura (close to Agra) and drive away men by beating them with sticks just as Krishna was chased away when he tried teasing Radha and her friends. It is called Lathmaar Holi (lath: meaning stick).
In Maharashtra the highlight is when young men make a human pyramid to climb up and break a pot suspended high above the streets. The practice harks back to the child Krishna who used to steal buttermilk from the houses in his village. It is truly a spectacular scene.
Bengal does it a little differently. It is known as Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima. Idols of Krishna and his consort Radha are put in an extravagantly decorated palanquin and paraded around the streets. Wherever it goes, people throw coloured powder (gulal) on the carriers and vice versa.
The Shekhawat region of Rajasthan has its own peculiar style. When Holi is celebrated and people smear gulal on each other it is a manly affair with no women participating. This custom has evolved because in previous years women used to be physically harassed by drunken men, which led to plenty of conflict and violence. A result of this social restriction is that now the young men and boys dress up like girls during the week long celebrations.
However one theme unites them all. Holi is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil.
Holi is also enthusiastically celebrated by the vast Indian Diaspora around the world, especially London. It will be celebrated on different dates at different places like Richmond and Watford and go on right through the month of March. The final big bash will be in June at the Holi Festival Of Colours London on the 28th of June at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Wherever it is celebrated though, Holi is bound to be full of colour, excitement and good times.