Thursday 21 March 2013

The United Colors of Holi

Namaste and welcome to the third post of my blog. I received some very positive feedback for the two of my earlier blog posts and that pushed me to write another one soon enough. The feedback in terms of page views, replies, and online feedback was indeed very boosting and I would take this moment to thank all the visible as well as silent appreciation the readers of the blog showered me with.

I wanted to write about something which I very much believe in, a belief you can term me as a fanboy of, but I would reserve it for my next blog post. As much as I wanted to write about it, I felt I needed some more analysis, and now that the entire nation is going to witness yet another chapter of one of the biggest cultural extravaganza, the festival of Holi, I decided to write something about it.

Just like other major pan-Indian symbols, the festival of Holi has also been discussed, the tales being told by our grandmothers, the symbolism explained by our parents innumerable times. I wish to touch upon those known and certain unknown attributes of the celebration of colors, called Holi.

It all really did start from the burning of Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashyap. The brother of Hiranyakashyap had been killed by Vishnu, and he had despised Vishnu since then. Much to his horror, his son Prahlad turned out to be a devout worshipper of Vishnu. Worried that his own son would make his subjects go back to openly worshipping Vishnu, he decided to kill his son. His sister, Holika had a divine drape which would never burn, so she wore the drape and sat on a pyre of burning wood. The drape, mystically, flew down from Holika to Prahlad, and Holika was burnt instead, thus the name, Holi.

Symbolically, Holi marks the victory of devotion and the devotee over evil. A night before Holi is celebrated, a pyre of woods is burnt, symbolizing the anniversary of burning of Holika thousands of years ago.

The tradition, then a small entity, celebrated only around the kingdom of Hiranyakashyap, merged with another similar sounding tradition, one of them being Hola, which means offering oblations to God in anticipation of a good harvest, Holi being celebrated at the onset of Spring season, marks the beginning of a new calendar year.

Another legend, which further got merged with the burning of pyre during Holi, was the burning of Kamadev by Shiva's third eye. Shiva had gone into deep meditation after the death of his wife Sati, and Parvati insisted Kamadev to bring Shiva out of the deep meditation. Shiva, enraged, opened his third eye and burnt Kamadev, Holika pyre thus symbolizing control of all worldly desires by a devotee.

For hundreds of years, the festival was celebrated as thus and there was no use of colors by then, until came the legends of Krishna. 
Krishna was dark in color, and in contrast to his skin color, Radha was very fair. So, Krishna's foster mother Yashoda used to apply colors on Radha's face during the Holi festivities as a prank. Krishna took a cue out of it, and started applying dark colors to all his and Radha's friends simultaneously. The playful pranks by Krishna soon garnered tremendous acceptance among the subjects, and this is marked the beginning of playing colors on Holi.

These were mostly the legendary tales associated with Holi. The festival comprises of further symbolic and scientific attributes.

Celebrated at the onset of the colorful spring, and to mark the end of the New Year, the colors symbolize the beginning of the new harvest season and an ode to the colors of spring.
As per Hindu ideology, there are seven basic Hindu gods.

1. Dreaming force - Indra (god of dreaming)
2. Illusory force - Shakti (god of illusion)
3. Voluntary force - Brahma (god of creation/new life)
4. Semi voluntary force - Vishnu (god of preservation)
5. Involuntary force - Shiva (god of determination)
6. Status altering force - Shani (god of status change)
7. Compulsive force - Yama (god of compulsion)

Out of these seven, only Shiva and Vishnu are the ones which help us live a life of discipline. The rest of the gods, who are symbolized by various colors, viz. gold for Brahma, black for Shani, etc., deviate our lives from a disciplined approach. Hence the celebration of Holi, which is a symbolic outlet of all other forces, marked by playing and applying colors symbolizing those Gods and those forces.

In ancient India, this used to be the season where the germs of certain common skin diseases, like chicken pox, were majorly prevalent. The doctors of those times invented Gulaal, which is known to kill germs which cause skin-related diseases.

In certain cultures, the burning of wood and leaves on a full moon night already existed. Older leaves and wood being burnt symbolized the onset of time for new leaves and new wood to arrive. People smeared ash all over their bodies and celebrated the festivity. 

Colorful days, solemn rituals, joyous celebrations - Holi is a cheerful occasion. In earlier times, people used to collect flowers of 'Tesu' trees from forests and spread out on mats. Once dried, they were ground to fine powder, and were then used to play Holi. A festival where all differences among individuals are resolved, people diving on to sweet festivities, Holi is a festival worth experiencing and celebrating in your life.

With that, I wish to end my third blog post. I am still keeping the place reserved for my next blog post, something I very much want to write about. Till then, Namaste, and wishing you all a very Happy Holi

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  1. A very detailed and interesting description of one of the most celebrated festivals of India. The blog tells each and every detail in the simplest of words. Looking forward for the next post.. HAPPY HOLI!!! :)

    1. Namaste Shubham.
      Thanks for your feedback!!!!! Happy Holi to you too

  2. Such a great explanation to it... Delighted to read so much good about Holi :)

    1. @suruchi : its very bad that u need to read instead sapan should told u abt that :-)

    2. She says I dont have time to tell out this stuff to her...;)

  3. good research on one of our beautiful festival Holi, that being celebrated in whole of Bharat and now in all over the world too....
    Holi being the festival of color brings the joy in our life....and this post is a wonderful tribute to such festival...
    again, a well written post, keep penning !! :)

    1. Namaste!!
      Thanks for your prompt feedback and appreciation.
      Happy Holi to you!!

  4. u know i always love stories and specially the significance about it. i love that part which mention about connection of colors with Krishna.I like it.

    1. I agree to that, and thats possibly because rest of the legends were already known and any thing abou Krishna fascinates us like no other story
      Happy Holi

  5. Namaste Sapan !!!

    Keep up the Great Work !!!

    Hope you will enjoy my new article on "A very famous concept of Vedas about the Day at Brahmlok being different from Earth"...

    Though we both write about our culture i deviate and restrict myself to the scientific aspect of our HINDUISM...

    I have gathered much info about the scientific nature of this concept of our Vedas.

    1. Namaste Divya!!
      A thoroughly researched article I must say, that you have written. And I agree, I would like to touch both the cultural and logical aspects. Thanks for replying and Happy Holi to You!!!!

  6. Well written, detailed, factual and very informative, if you really interested to know all these facts you need to search lot..

    We are going away from all these treasures. I have seen in last many years, the way we celebrated holi and now mere a formality

    1. Namaste Sandeep!!!
      Thanks for replying and liking my post. I agree we are going away from all these treasures in our modern busy life....we must strive to preserve this...this is our history, our mythology and our base
      Happy Holi to you

  7. Namaste,

    There are many ecological, spiritual and social aspects of Holi as explained above however, we will can also look at health aspects here...

    Holi is celebrated just before the onset of summers. In summer Pitta has a strong tendency to go out of control. Now according to Ayurveda one should take cooling stuff before Pitta has aggravated as this helps keep Pitta balanced. Traditionally Holi was played with colours made from flowers etc and more importantly with a mixture of water, mud and gobar. Now it is well known that water, mud and gobar are sheetal or cooling in nature. Hence during the one week of Holi, one would be plastered with this solution again and again hence preparing the system to effortlessly handle the oncoming summer months without falling ill due to aggravation of Pitta..

    Hope the above helps in clarifying this basic principle.

    1. Namaste Siddharth,
      Certainly a notion, which was missing in this post. Thanks for the health aspects also. And to think of it, not many people would care about these aspects before playing Holi
      That was very helpful and informative indeed

  8. Really a very nice blog.

    One can even read -
    for getting more ideas about Hindu pujan product.

  9. Very informative post! A well explained post on Holi festival.