Holi, the festival of colors, spring and love is coming real soon and while reminiscing the old childhood memories along with a couple of friends I wondered why do we celebrate Holi? I mean everyone knows what you do when the festival arrives – it’s all about fun with colors, water balloons, and bhaang. But not so much about why is it one of the most important festivals for Hindus.
Today, we talk about why we celebrate Holi and the meaning and emotion behind this festival of colors, love and joy.
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What is the Festival of Colors all about?
One of the most anticipated and fun festivals of India, Holi or the festival of colors basically depicts what most of the Hindu festivals do – the celebration of victory of good over evil. But what makes it much more interesting is that where the other great festival called Diwali (the festival of lights) is celebrated at night, Holi is a festival of the Sun.
Hindus across the world indulge in celebrating this festival in different ways since it has plenty to offer for people of all ages – from little kids excited for getting those water guns or pichkarees and older people waiting for the festival to go meet friends and relatives and play with the family members by applying colors onto each other.
By the end of it all, the streets around you is filled with different colors, children’s laughter and just so much fun!
That is what the festival of colors is all about – it’s all about fun, water guns, meeting relatives, dancing with friends covered with all kinds of colors or gulaal, eating those delicious homemade sweets and just celebrating life as a whole.
Why is Holi called the Festival of Colors?
Colors play a very crucial role in our history and mythological tales and are represented as holding deeper meanings in the ancient texts.
As for the festival of colors, Holi is dedicated to Krishna and most of the stories and legends related to this festival are related in some way or the other to the Hindu God of Compassion, Love and Protection.
The legend related to the reason why we celebrate Holi today as the festival of colors takes place during the childhood of Krishna.
As you all may know, Krishna was dark blue in color due to consuming the poison of a demoness called Pootna who wanted to kill the new born. As Krishna grew up, he started to get a little weirded out about the color of his skin and others.
Once, while talking to his mother Yashoda, little Krishna who had already met the love of his life – Radha, asked his mother about the color difference between his friends or Radha and Krishna.
You all might have heard the bhajan song “Radha kyu gori, Mai kyu kaala“.
So to console her anxious kid, Yashoda told Krishna that if he thinks Radha looks different from him why doesn’t he go put some color on her face and make her look like him.
Krishna smiled, took some gulaal with him and went straight to Radha with his friends. When Krishna applied color on his beloved Radha’s face softly, that started upon the incredible celebration of the festival of Holi.
Later, Krishna and his friends played with water guns (pichkaari) and threw water at Radha and other gopis.
Thus, the festival started to be known as the festival of colors. The festival celebrates the love and compassion between Radha and Krishna and the playfulness that the two shared.
Why is Holi called the Festival of Love?
Other than the fact that Holi is a festival of love because it celebrates the eternal love between the childhood sweethearts Shree Krishna and Radha, there’s also a lesser known tale about the festival being dedicated to Love.
This legend is about Lord Shiva and the God of Love, Kama.
According to the legend, during the time between when Goddess Sati died in the arms of Shiva and when she came back as Parvati into Shiva’s life – it wasn’t something like in the movies. Which means it wasn’t like Shiva knew at the moment that he saw Parvati that she is his very own consort or the reincarnation of Sati. This is said to be because of the loss and trauma he suffered and the anger he had inside him that he couldn’t realize that.
So when the God of Love, Kama tried to spark some love between Lord Shiva towards Goddess Parvati, Shiva did not like it and got angry. So much so that he opened up his ‘third eye’ and burnt the Love God to ashes!
This was a really horrifying scene for all the Devas and especially for the wife of Kama – Rati. She begged the other Gods to try and get her husband back and also to get the personification of Love back in the world, because without Love, the world will collapse!
When all the other Devas went to Shiva to request him to revive Love or the God of Love and also make him realize that Parvati is infact the reincarnation of his long lost love, Sati.
Shiva agrees to this and revives Kama but on one condition. The condition was that Kama needed to become the embodiment of Love and can no longer have a bodily form. Which means he will always be there but not in a form of a God or Human or any species, but a feeling – an emotion. Shiva blessed Kama to be mind-born.
When Kama was revived as what we know love to be today – to save the world from collapsing, all the Devas and others on the Heavenly abode celebrated the day with utmost fun.
That day later started to be known as the day we celebrate Holi. And thus, Holi became to be known as Kaamotsava or the festival of Love.
Why do We Celebrate Holi?
Ahh the most important question of the day – Why do we Celebrate Holi? Because it’s fun? Because we get to meet our buddies and relatives and have those mouth watering sweets? Or because we just need a day when we can relive our childhood, maybe? Or maybe just because we should?
The reasons for celebrating Holi can be different for different people and different generations when you think about it emotionally, right? But do you know the real meaning behind the word “Holi” and why this particular tale from our ancient scripts is the major reason people believe as to why do we celebrate Holi?
Holi comes from the word or name Holika – a demoness from the Hindu legends.
So basically, Holi is celebrated in two times – the Choti Holi or Holika Dahan is celebrated on the first day (during the night) of the festival and the Colorful Holi (or the Rangwali Holi) takes place the next day.
What is the legend of Holika, you may ask? Well, here we go!
This tale begins with a demon king named Hiranyakashyap who had the dream and desire of becoming immortal – like most of the demons.
The only ones who could give him this dream fulfilment were the Gods and he had to perform penance for several years and faithfully call upon the gods so they could come before him.
It took him a couple of years but he managed to finally get Lord Brahma (the God of Creation) to provide him a boon.
Brahma told Hiranyakashyap that not even supreme gods can give a boon of immortality, but being a cunning and intelligent one, the demon king instead asked for five special powers to be given to him. To which Brahma agreed.
These five powers were –
- Neither a human nor an animal could kill him
- He could neither be killed indoors nor outdoors
- He could neither be killed by an Astra (projectile or launched weapon) nor a Shastra (handheld weapon)
- He could neither be killed on land nor under water
- He could neither be killed during the day nor during the night
After all these powers were granted to Hiranyakashyap, he caused mayhem into the entire world. He demanded himself to be referred as a God and destroyed anyone who wouldn’t worship him.
Hiranyakashyap later had a son and named him Prahlad. Prahlad did not believe his father to be any kind of God and never agreed with him. Prahlad was a great worshipper of Lord Vishnu (the God of Protection) and prayed to the God to somehow stop his father.
This enraged Hiranyakashyap so much that he surpassed all the levels of evil when he decided to kill his own son. But as Prahlad was nothing like his father, Lord Vishnu protected him at all times. That is when Holika, the sister of Hiranyakashyap and a powerful demoness was called upon to complete the task.
Holika had a boon in the shape of a special magical cloak which protected her from catching fire. The plan was setup and staged as Hiranyakashyap told Holika to sit on a bonfire and hold little Prahlad on her lap while doing so.
However, as the fire grew stronger and was about to grasp Prahlad, the garment all of a sudden flew from the demoness’ body to cover the kid. And thus, Holika was burnt alive and turned into ashes, while Prahlad came out unharmed.
This was the time Vishnu reincarnated in the form of Lord Narsimha (half lion-half man) and killed Hiranyakashyap.
Lord Narsimha came in dusk (in between the night and day), dragged Hiranyakashyap to the doorstep (which was just at the middle of being indoors or outdoors), placed the demon king on his lap (neither over land nor under water) and decapitated the demon’s head through his claws (neither a launched weapon nor a handheld one)
Prahlad was later made the mighty king of Asuras as well as the human beings in the area. It is said he was one of the nicest kings ever.
This legend is the major reason as to why people burn a huge bonfire and offer dead leaves, flowers, akshat, cotton, kumkum, coconut, water, gulaal, haldi and other items into the holy fire. This whole event is referred as the Holika Dahan and is a religious Puja which symbolizes the victory of Good over Evil. The fire represents people burning the evil from their society and from deep within them as well.
This is one of the major religious reason why do we celebrate Holi and the meaning behind the name given to the festival.
How do we celebrate Holi?
The best thing about the Hindu festivals like Diwali, Holi, Shivratri and other is that two people can have different perspectives and different reasons to celebrate it and even different ways to go through with it – and it’s completely fine. No one really judges you for what you believe in.
Now that we know why do we celebrate Holi, let’s talk about the various ways people celebrate this festival of colors –
So, as we know Holi is celebrated as a festival in two days – the first day or Chhoti Holi is celebrated in the night with the Holika Dahan. People gather around in their neighborhoods and burn a grand bonfire with wood, cotton, dried leaves and flowers, etc. and offer several things to the holy fire.
People offer cotton, dried leaves, akshat, kumkum, coconut, gulaal, little water, etc.
The next day is a day of celebration and just pure and proper fun. People get ready with their old clothes (mostly kurtas/kurtis or old t-shirts and stuff) and put colors (gulaal) on each other’s faces and then go outside meet people and have sweets.
Little kids can be seen covered in so many bright colors with their water guns (pichkaree) spraying each other and everyone they get their eyes too.
During holi, if you happen to be moving from any part of a city (especially in the Northern India) you shall be ready to have those water and color splashes from as small a thing as the water guns to as large chunks of water from a water container coming all over you from a rooftop. And well you cannot yell or be irritated as they’ll just smile at you and say, “bura na maano holi hai!!” which means “do not mind, IT’S HOLI!“
People use water, gulaal (dry color), rang (watered color) and pichkarees to play Holi and celebrate this amazing festival.
Many youngsters party it out till the evening while being completely wet and covered with colors and just enjoying themselves at the fullest.
Various food and drinks associated with the festival of Holi
Now Holi is all about colors, love, enjoyment and fun and victory of good over evil and everything related to it and that’s amazing but for many people, it’s also this particular element of the festival which makes them excited about it even more.
Here are the most famous food and drink items associated with the festival and kind of another reason why do we celebrate Holi –
- Papad & Chips
Many mothers and neighboring aunties might be seen about a week ahead of the festival as they make papads and chips and spread it out to dry up in sunlight for days.
- Namakpare & Shakkarpare (spiced diamond cuts and diamond cuts sweet)
These two along with Gujiya, make for the most important Holi food items to be made in homes during the preparation of this festival.
Gujiyas are my favorite among the lot and even fun to make. Gujiyas are basically sweetened and dried up dumplings which make for a great greeting sweet for relatives and friends at the festival of colors.
- Dahi Bade
Dahi Bhalle or Dahi Bade is like a perfect blend of curd and spices. When you serve it with sweet chutney and other stuff what it inevitably does – is that it wins hearts! Everyone loves this delicacy.
- Mal Pua
Malpuas are basically sweet and soft pancakes which are heavenly in taste and a great option to have in your gathering menu for this festival.
Ahh the one chance of having that feeling of being “high” is one of the most essential element that you’d see over the streets and parties across the cities in India during the festival of colors. Bhaang is basically the mascot of Holi delicacies and Thandai is a sweet drink with a dash of bhaang added to it. You might have seen those huge silver glasses filled with it in most of the Hindi Bollywood songs about Holi.
Customs and Traditions of Celebrating Holi in Different States
As I said earlier, Holi is celebrated with different beliefs and customs throughout different states and cities across India. Let’s talk about them and learn further reasons why we celebrate Holi the way we do.
1. Lathmar Holi of Mathura
Lathmar Holi or basically a Holi with Sticks is celebrated in parts of North India in Uttar Pradesh – mostly in and around Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana (the best Holi celebration can be seen in these areas every year). In this scenario, the women run after men with sticks, canes (or lathis) and playfully hit them during celebration. This particular type of Holi tradition is from the epic love story of Radha Krishna.
It is believed that once during this time when Krishna and friends went to secretly throw colors and water over Radha and other Gopis, they were all seen running from the scene as the girls took lathis and started hitting the boy gang. This became known as one of the key moments in the Radha Krishna story and people in Uttar Pradesh celebrate it as the Lath Maar Holi.
2. Laddu Maar Holi of Barsana
In Barsana and surrounding areas of Uttar Pradesh you can also experience another kind of unique holi called “Laddu Maar Holi“. Imagine the Tomatina Festival from Spain and replace the tomatoes with Laddus.
In this particular story, Radharani’s father Shri Vrishbhanu ji invited many people from surrounding areas especially from Nandgav (Krishna’s home). They accepted the invite and many guests gathered around on the carpet to have their food during the festival.
Then came Radha with her group of friends and sprayed colors all over the men and thus started the celebration of Holi. Since the guys did not have any colors with them they took the next best thing – the laddus and threw them towards the Gopis.
This started up the custom of playing Holi with the Laddus.
3. Royal Holi of Udaipur
Udaipur or the white city of India celebrates Holi with the uniqueness that the city has – a grand royal celebration.
The Mewar royal family continues to celebrate the incredible festival of colors and love in the grand palaces and people play with colors and get together and party it out in front of a grand bonfire.
Along with the Holika Dahan ceremony, you can see horses dressed in royal attire, the royal music playing in the background and royal band following through the massive parade.
4. Kumaoni Holi
In the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, the celebration of Holi is more of a function of the upcoming Spring Season and the people celebrate it with dance and music and cultural events rather than with colors. The Kumaoni Holi is celebrated on a scale of a few months and consists of three kinds of Holi celebrations other than the Holika bonfire.
- Baithaki Holi – This Holi is a celebration wherein people experience folk songs, dancing and musical performances with classical tunes. It is a spiritual experience which has a lot of fun elements.
- Khadi Holi – ‘Dhol’ is one of the most important aspect of this Holi. Here men dress up in traditional attire and sing and dance on folk music for the audience.
- Mahila Holi – Mahila Holi is an exclusive celebration just for the ladies. It is basically everything that baithaki Holi is but just for women.
5. Rang Panchami in Maharashtra
Holi in Maharashtra is not very different from the major aspect or reason why we celebrate Holi and how in the Northern Indian region. They just have different names for it.
The Holika Dahan happens on the night before Holi as people gather around and celebrate victory of good over evil by burning up a large bonfire.
The next day is the grand celebration with colors, sweets, water guns, water buckets and fun and entertainment called the Rang Panchami.
Why Holi carries an emotional meaning for me?
The festivals like Diwali and Holi have been the most fun and entertaining for everyone who has grown up in major parts of the Indian subcontinent. And that has remained so since years, centuries even.
The thing about festivals is that during the childhood you anticipate and wait for them to come, right? We did not care about why we celebrate Holi, just the fun of it. You wait for the day, mark your calendars, plan up the whole day maybe, tell your friends about it at school, go to your parents to remind them to get you some special kind of water gun and these set of colors for the day.
All this happens and the day finally arrives. Holi is here. And you can’t keep calm because, well, Holi is here!
You wake up and run around the house coloring your Mum’s face first then going towards the other family members – Paa, Di, and everyone around. Next thing, you vibrate sort of to head to your room, get your water gun as quickly as possible, but you cannot just yet as Maa applies oil on all over your body.
And finally when it’s done, you run to get the water gun and a small bucket outside, tell someone to fill it with water and – just begin!
Shoot anyone you set your little eyes onto with bullets of water, throw water balloons, cover their faces with a mixture of colors ’cause your excitement has surpassed all levels and just run around the streets with friends and relatives and stuff.
Holi used to be an amazing day for me – and for you all reading this as well I’m sure – in some way or the other.
But what happened? We grew up and the meaning and excitement of celebrating Holi – counting the days – getting our favorite kind of water guns – planning the entire day – everything just started to disappear, as the years passed by.
We grew up – friends grew apart – we left home – got lost in the life we had to make for us – and then came today. The day that we are kinda free enough in life to think. When a festival is just a few days away – I suppose our brain somehow automatically goes through those memories and we think about it a lot. The carelessness, the meaning of fun, the friendships, the naughtiness, the innocence and everything forms an emotional rollercoaster of stuff that goes through your mind.
This subtopic – this particular heading, is different than the other parts of this blog. Why? ‘Cause I didn’t think about it before – and it might even come across as weird or something, but it’s just raw feelings and emotions (which do not always have to make sense, right?) of a guy reminiscing the most favorite festival of his – as it arrives.
I still feel a little spark of that excitement now as the festival arrives. It’s magic, isn’t it. Feeling all those years of moments and memories all in a flash. But that’s incredible too. It makes one realize that life could change for the good and the bad at any point of time – but these memories, these festivals – are the ones that have the power to lift our spirits up. And feed our inner child.
So on this Holi 2022, I hereby command everyone to not just think about the surroundings and stuff, and just celebrate Holi as you want – play with the street kids, run around the house, get Maa to apply a full bottle of oil over your body – call friends and make plans. And it is a great time to let your inner child know that this is the time when it can take over – for a little while. Because Holi is here!
I hope you loved this informational and heartfelt article on the celebration of the year coming up in the shape of Holi – the festival of colors, the festival of love and the festival of our childhood. Comment down below your favorite memory of Holi and follow us on the socials and subscribe to the blog for regular updates about new content on your emails before anywhere else.
That’s All Folks!