India's Holi Festival Welcomes Spring With Vibrant Colors


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India's festival of colors Holi will be celebrated on March 10, 2020 (Credit: Steven Gerner /CC BY-SA 2.0/

Though India is home to numerous fun festivals, few are as revered or as widely celebrated as Holi, the festival of colors. Commemorated annually on the last full moon day of the Hindu calendar month Phalguna, this year, the joyous holiday will take place on March 10, 2020.

While Holi, which celebrates the beginning of spring, has many traditions associated with it, the most popular one is covering family, friends, and even strangers in rainbow-hued powder. Some revelers take to the streets early in the morning, chanting "Holi hai" ("it's Holi"), and dousing anyone they encounter with colored powder. Others spend the day drenching unsuspecting passersby, using water-filled balloons and even large buckets of water, from the safety of their balconies or rooftops. The fun lasts till noon, after which the crowds head home or to nearby rivers and oceans for a quick rinse, before settling down for a delicious feast and a well-deserved siesta!

A special feast awaits Holi revelers every year (Credit: Ms Sarah Welch / CC BY-SA 4.0/

The myth behind the centuries-old celebration differs across India. The most popular folklore tells the story of Hiranyakashipu, the king of demons, who was unhappy with his young son Prahlada's devotion to Lord Vishnu, the protector of humanity. After all efforts to persuade the young boy to worship him instead of Lord Vishnu failed, Hiranyakashipu turned to his sister Holika for assistance. The demon goddess, who had been bestowed with a magical shawl that protected her from fire, invited Prahlada to join her on a pyre in a cruel attempt to burn him to death.

To everyone's astonishment, Holika's protective clothing flew from her shoulders onto Prahlada's, causing the demon to perish in the flames. Soon after, Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of a half-man and half-lion and killed King Hiranyakashipu. The locals celebrated the victory of good over evil with colorful powder, and a fun tradition was born. To this day, many worshippers cleanse the air of evil spirits by igniting a bonfire the night before Holi.

On Lathmar Holi, the women of Barsana stage a mock battle with the men from Nandagaon (Credit: Narender9 /CC BY SA 3.0/

In the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Holi commemorates the love between the mischievous Hindu deity Lord Krishna and his beloved Radha. While most celebrate the festival for just one day, residents of the historical town of Nandgaon in Mathura district, where Krishna was born, have fun events planned for an entire month leading up to Holi. The highlight is the Lathmar, or stick, Holi, which takes place a day before the main event. Legend has it that Lord Krishna visited Radha, who lived in the neighboring village of Barsana, on this day and teased her and her friends, who chased him away with sticks.

To reenact the event, men from Nandgaon arrive at Barsana once a year to stage a mock battle with the women. The women "attack" the men with bamboo sticks, while the men protect themselves with shields and try to fight back with the only weapon at their disposal — colored powder! Those unfortunate enough to get captured by the feisty females are forced to don women's clothing and dance for their captors. The fun continues the following day when the women of Barsana head to Nandgaon, armed with just colored powder, to celebrate Holi. Regardless of the myth believed, Holi is a day of love when people of all ages and cultures come together, setting aside their worries and past feuds.

Happy Holi!



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