I received an email Monday morning from one of my coworkers who operates out of Pune, India.
First of all, this goes out to him and his group that we work with, because without his frequent reminders of celebrations and holidays, I would be lost at work.
His email was short and sweet, “Check out Indian Festival ‘Holi.’ We celebrate it today.”
Naturally, I took the word and searched it up on Google. Below a few images I saw the Wikipedia result. I didn’t put two and two together until the last minute; the picture results showed people drenched in what looked like colors. When I read about the holiday, I learned a whole lot more about that.
Also known as the “Festival of Colors,” Holi (होली, Holli, Doul Jatra, orBasanta-Utsav depending on the region) is a festival primarily celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs to mark the end of Winter and to usher in the Spring season. It’s a joyous time when everyone goes nuts and lets loose. When I say let loose, I mean good fun, unadulterated, and occasionally intoxicated. I could go into that, but it’s more popular for it’s colored powders and waters, bonfires, great food, music and dancing.
The Festival of Colors traces back to ancient Hindu scriptures, and has been considered one of the oldest of Hindu Festivals. It’s an annual tradition, beginning on the last day of Phalguna, the lunar month, which is usually between February and March. This year the full moon occurred on February 28th, which means the first day of celebration was on March 1st – which is perfect! This year’s spring harvest is sure to be promising. The celebration itself is supposed to bring a good harvest to the people and keep the lands fertile for years to come. The more food harvested, the bigger the celebration!
The specifics of Holi reveal a multi-day procession of color and music across most of India and Nepal that begins with “Holi Purnima,” the observance of the full moon. The night is followed by a day of dancing and celebrating with the community. Everyone gets involved, and some purposefully wear their whitest garbs to get the most out of the fun. The celebration is over on Rangapanchami, the fifth day after Holi. That means some people go on partying for days!
Holi is observed with bonfires lit to commemorate the miraculous escape of Prahlad from Holika, as written in Hindu scriptures (there are other roots to Holi, yet this origin is more widely accepted). “Holika Dahan” (aka “The Burning of Holika”) marks the commemoration of that accomplishment. Just to clarify, Holika was a demoness, and Prahlad is one of Lord Vishnu’s most trusted devotees, so you can imagine the compelling struggle between good and evil made this an epic event. Check out this link to learn more about that story from Wikipedia…
While the festival is celebrated with the best of intentions, it does give rise to environmental concerns over the wood burned during Holika Dahan. When you consider the number of people across India and Nepal and the rest of the World that light bonfires in observance of Holi, it adds up to a lot. This global concern has brought Western influence to an ancient Eastern tradition, and it has begun to have an impact on how the festival itself is celebrated.
Thankfully, Holi is still very much the same as it was hundreds of years ago. While some parts of the world celebrate for one day, some go on for as many as sixteen days. During that time, colored powders and liquids blanket the streets, along with people who are laughing, singing, and partying like it’s New Years. It’s one of the most wholesome celebrations I’ve ever come across. While I missed the Holi-day this year, I know in my heart that I’ll celebrate it at some point, hopefully in Pune so I can kick it with my coworkers.