When it’s time for Spring, we embrace the glory of Holi…
In India since time immemorial, festivals and celebrations have been of great importance and influence on its culture. The most distinguishing factor of our culture is that all the festivals celebrated aims at instilling human values in society and the focus remains on values of love, unity and goodwill in people. These events are usually not aimed at any particular caste or religion, language or region, hence remains non-discriminatory and is the reason why the festivals and celebrations in India are celebrated with respect and togetherness by all Indians irrespective of the religions they follow.
Holi is one of the most important and awaited festivals in India, neighbouring countries and other parts of the world. It is celebrated in the spring season; on the full moon day in the month of Falgun (according to Hindu calendar) February/March (as per the Gregorian calendar). Holi marks the onset of Spring which is between the end of winter and start of summer, this festival hence is also known as the commencement of the harvest season.
There are several beliefs related to this festival across the regions and we see it as unity in diversity, which is what is most distinctive about India as compared to any other country in the world.
Various source tells me, that there are more than one mythological significance attached to Holi, like;
In North Eastern India Holika Dahan is symbolically connected to Lord Krishna killing Putna, the demoness and celebrated as Putna Dahan. On this day they sing, dance and lovingly rub colours on each other, just as Gopis and Gwalas did after Krishna’s victory over Putna.
Whereas in Southern India it is believed that on this very day, Lord Shiva had opened his third eye to burndown Kamdev to ashes and smeared the ashes all over his body. But as soon as Lord Shiva became aware of right intentions of Kamdev’s disruption in his yog (meditation) and about the deep sorrows of Kamdev’s wife Rati, he revived Kamdev back to life. As a result, Gods and Goddesses showered colours all over to symbolise their happiness. Therefore, in Southern India, the evening before Holi, a big fire is alighted which signifies burning of Kamdev by Shiva and in that fire goes ‘Sugercane that symbolises Kamdev’s bow, Flowers of Mangoes which symbolises his arrows and Sandalwood to sooth his burning sensations’ as offerings.
The most famous mythological stories out of all is the story of Prahlad’s: it is believed that centuries ago there lived a very powerful demon king called Hiranyakashipu who gained some special powers as a boon from Lord Vishnu for his great devotion but that power turned him into a vain and he forced his kingdom to treat and worship only him and no other power as God. Amidst all of these, it turned out his Son was the most dedicated worshiper of Lord Vishnu and was not going to turn his faith from Vishnu to the newly self-acclaimed God in the kingdom. Which made the demon extremely jealous and angry to the point where he wanted his son to be killed. After many failed attempts, the demon went to seek help from his sister Holika, who had the boon that no fire can ever affect her in any way, so the demon ordered his sister to sit in the fire with Prahlad in her lap. But to everyone’s surprise completely opposite happened. Holika was burnt to death but Prahlad remained untouched even of this cruelty. Henceforth in remembrance of this day and event, the big fire gets lighted up. And as a significance it is believed that Prahlad means happiness, while Holika signified animosity and torture who got burned down into ashes. Prahlad, who signified love, devotion and happiness remained immortal.
Some people also believe that when they play Holi applying colour to each other along with dancing and singing they takes the appearance of Lord Shiva’s followers and his marriage procession.
During Vedic period this festival was also celebrated in the form Yagna ritual, and new crops were offered to God in the form of Yagna (ritual of offerings into a consecrated fire).
While I find these beliefs fascinating and feel inspired with the messages each of these stories share. My curious brain wondered once again thinking what the scientific significance of celebrating Holi is, followed by Holika Dahan (Bonfire) in the night before the big day? I strongly believe our ancestors were very clever in instilling these norms and rituals into the society, so there has to be another angle of significance to this fun filled, full of colours festival – Holi.
Further investigation into it suggested – generally, this time of the year the between winters and summers, weather becomes predictably unpredictable. Summers are mostly hot and Winters mostly cold, but spring can be either, on successive days or even in the space of a few hours. This kind of unsettled weather can be vaguely discontenting and comes with the risk of harmful viruses and bacterias in the surroundings and in our bodies. A lot of people at this time experience changes in their health with the changing weather, including more frequent headaches, joint pain, tiredness, and even catching more colds. It also brings the increased risk of Chicken pox, Conjunctivitis, Hay fever and allergic Asthma going at its peak. May be that’s why spring is traditionally the season we try to get things in order with spring cleaning.
Beginning the Holi festival night before – by going around the Holika Dahan (Bonfire), and absorbing the heat coming from bonfire helps kill the bacteria/ viruses in the body and hence this becomes another way of spring-cleaning process for the individual and surroundings. It is to be noted that this bonfire does not consists of garbage, unwanted goods or any sort of clearance. Instead, it traditionally consists of very specific things such as logs and pieces of dry wood, Cow-dung, Camphor, Cloves, Ghee, whole grains, incense, specific flowers, raw cotton thread, Gulaal etc. Once the fire is over, people apply some bits of ashes which consists of medicinal properties on to the body.
Then comes the grand finale which is the very next day of Holika Dahan. This day is filled with fun and vibrant colours. In ancient times, the original colours of Holi, called Gulaal; which mainly was the extracts from plants and flowers. This Gulaal, when used dry or with water penetrates into skin and cures many diseases. In the medieval times the Gulaals were made with the flowers of the Tesu or Palash tree, also called as flame of the forest or Butea Monosperma. These flowers/herbs are also well known to cure diabetes, any eye related diseases like Cataract, anaemia in kids, kidney stones, urinary blockages or pain in the bladder.
Other colours too were originally made from plants with medicinal benefits – like Neem, Haldi, Bilva, Palash, Mehndi leaves, Gulmohur tree leaves, Rhododendron leaves and Pine needles, Bael fruit, Amaltas, or even Gram flour, flowers like – Roses, red and blue Hibiscus, Chrysanthemums, Marigold, Dandelions, Sunflowers, Daffodils, Dahlias, Jacaranda and Saffron, Indian berries such as – Barberry, Blueberry, and Wildberry, Madder tree, the bark of Crab apple trees, fragrant red Sandal wood, Peels and the seeds of Pomegranate, Beetroot, Indigo, species of Grapes, Katha or the catechu (which is an extract of acacia trees, generally used in Paan), Red maple trees etc. The wide variety of plant based, from leaves, flowers or even to the bark of the trees were used to prepare the colours and then used to play Holi.
Some of these flowers/ herbs when dried in sunlight and if its powdered form is mixed with water, created bright saffron-red colours. This powder was known as Abbir, made from natural colours and in the form of talc, was extensively used as Holi color, and is beneficial for the skin.
The playful pouring and throwing of colour powders made from these natural sources also has a healing effect on the human body. The correct herbal colours made from natural sources like in ancient days also has the effect of strengthening the ions in the body and ability to promote health and beauty. The colours made from herbs is believed to have antibacterial, insecticidal, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antiviral, antiallergic and antimutagenic properties.
Alas these days, the market’s mostly flooded with synthetic colours, which are cheaper in price and extremely poor in its purpose. They usually consist of toxic components such as lead oxide, diesel, chromium iodine, and copper sulphate which could lead to rashes on the skin, allergies, pigmentation, and eye irritation.
So, having now dug a bit deeper into the festival’s Mythological significance and Scientific significance, Social significance still remains my favourite, as Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the secular bonding of the nation – atleast that’s what I saw growing up. The festival is celebrated not only by Hindus or in India but also everywhere in the world. With growing liking on the concept of being part of such colourful and joyous festival, I have also seen variations to it and adopting it as charitable activities in the western world, which makes it even more fascinating.
Growing up with this tradition of Holi I have seen people set out first thing in the morning to meet their friends and relatives, forgetting any envious or feelings of jealousy if ever held against. They then greet each other by applying Gulaal and other colours with a bear hug hug filled with love. It is a treat to witness people move in groups, wearing colours on clothes and faces, dancing & singing in the glory of joy. This day the whole community comes together to celebrate, painted with colours encouraging spirits of bonhomie and brotherhood/ sisterhood without differentiating between rich and poor. Holi in many ways has stood strong as a great leveller, where every single individual enjoys with eachother without bothering about their social status or any professional hierarchy.
I can’t conclude this article with talking about food in the festivities for India, without which any festival is incomplete. The rich and yummy delicacies with regional variation is widely cooked/prepared/eaten on the day. There are umerous varieties of sweets and savories dedicated to this colourful day out of which Gujiya, Dahivada, Malpua are my traditional favourites. We also have a special dedicated drink for the day called Thandai (rich with of milk and dryfruits), some get high just on that and some do their preferred high-flying additions to it 😄
I always loved when in the evening people visited friends and relatives after a late afternoon bath/shower, dressed up in their festive attire and exchanged gifts, sweets and greetings. This helped revitalise relationships and strengthen emotional bonds between people to welcome the new beginnings of nature and in their hearts.
Holi aayi hai to dil se khelo
Rang sache nahi to kya
Jazbaat to sache rakh sakte hain hum
Mita do sari dil-o-dimaag ki duriyan, gile shikwe, jhagde jhanjhat, sab bhulado
Ek baar khil khila ke kisi ko rang laga ke aur lagwa ke to dekho… 💞
Wishing everyone bright beautiful, happy and healthy Holi 🙏🏻🌸🌺🌼🌹🌷🌻🌿🍀🌱🍃🌾🍂