The festival of Holi is known as the festival of color. It contains many exuberant celebrations and rituals that are indicative of the joyous jubilation being honored because Prahlada was saved from the fire that his sister, Holika, carried him into – upon their father’s order. It is believed that Lord Vishnu protected Prahlada and thus ceremonious dance, food, and music are enjoyed during this celebration to praise the Lord Vishnu and Prahlada’s salvation from the fire. Let’s look at some other ways that Hindus celebrate Holi.
The most prevalent celebratory staple in a Holi festival is both the bonfire and the throwing of colored powder and/or perfumes at one another. The second most prevalent description of a traditional Holi festival would be best described as a wild celebration whereby the normally strict gaps between gender, status, and class are lowered so that all Hindus can join in the celebration equally. Holi celebrations traditionally last about 2 days, however in Mathura the Holi festival lasts a full 16 days.
The bonfire is lit around midnight to coincide with the rising moon. Men spend many days prior to the festival collecting enough wood to be used in the bonfire. The custom of smearing oneself, and each other, with colored powder and perfumes (or scented water) is likely why the festival has been dubbed the “Festival of Colors.”
The celebration is known for an excess of dance, music, and food to regale the arrival of spring in full glory. The dancing and singing are said to represent and symbolize the victory of good (Prahlada) over evil (Holi and their father Hiranyakashipu). One cannot underscore the exuberance and enthusiasm with which the rejoicers dance around the bonfire in celebration of Holi.
In Gorakhpur, the morning of Holi is likened to a New Year’s celebration as it is coincides with the last day of the Hindu calendar month Phalgun, which is considered the end of the Hindu year. The day is spent visiting every house, independent of class, singing Holi songs and showing gratitude for one another by smearing colored powders. It is largely considered the most colorful, joyful, and happiest day of the year – a day where brotherhood is promoted amongst all people.
In Kumaon the Holi festival is largely a festival of song. And as such there are even specific times for each song to be sung. Peelu, Bhimpalasi, and Sarang ragas are sung at noon, while Kalyan, Shyamkalyan, and Yaman songs are to be sung in the evening.
In Bihar, the ceremony is a loud and joyous event where grains, wood, leaves, and dung are all used in the bonfire. The elder of the community lights the bonfire and smears participants with color to greet them as they join in the festival activities. On the next day the festival continues in a spirit of abandon and frolic. Liquor is imbibed in copious amounts during the Holi festival in Bihar.
The Hindus recognize many different ways to celebrate the coming of spring with rejoicing in the traditions of the Holi story of the old Hindu religion. It is a time for rejoicing and celebrating with a fervent passion for life and salvation.