Holi is the most colorful amongst all the festivities that are celebrated in India. It is a festival of ushering in the spring, a festival of color, a festival signifying the triumph of goodness over evil and a festival of love.
It is probably the only festival which is equally acceptable to the non-Hindus as well and celebrated with just as much zest.
Holi is celebrated on the vernal equinox or the full moon, the Phalgun Purnima in the month Phalgun according to the traditional Hindu calendar and according to the Gregorian calendar it is celebrated in the month of March. However in West Bengal and Odisha, Holi or Doljatra is celebrated a day earlier.
Holi and the mythological stories surrounding it
The celebration of Holi and the festivities surrounding it starts a day early in the evening with the Holika Dahan. In fact, as you have rightly surmised, the name Holi came from the word Holika only. According to mythology, long back there was a king named Hiranyakashipu, who blessed with the boon of Lord Brahma, reigned over earth and heaven and terrorized even the God.
He sought vengeance on Lord Vishnu who had killed his brother. With the passage of time Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlad grew up to be one of the biggest devotees of Lord Vishnu. So enraged was Hiranyakashipu, that he wanted to kill Prahlad and enlisted the help of his cruel sister Holika. Holika had a drape that fire could not touch. So she sat in a bowl filled with fire to kill Prahlad. But seeing his devotee’s plight Lord Vishnu came to his aid, and a wind blew so strong that the anti-fire drape flew away and covered Prahlad and thus Holika was burnt to death. Thus Holi is definitely a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.
To commemorate the burning of Holika, people amass bamboos, wooden logs, thrown away furniture etc and build it into a pyre and put fire to it.
Color of love in Holi
In the Braj region where Lord Krishna, who was an avatar or an incarnation of Lord Vishnu grew up, the festival is celebrated for sixteen days and it commemorates the beautiful and divine love of Radha for Sri Krishna. The playful interplay of color too has a beautiful story attached to it. When Krishna was small, the demonic Putana, under the instruction of Kansa, tried to kill Krishna with poisoned milk. The poison did not kill him, but his skin turned blue due to the toxicity of the poison. Radha and her fair maidens used to tease Krishna about his complexion, and desperate if they will like him used to barrage his mother. His mother tired of this, asked him to go up to Radha and color her face with whichever color he wanted to. This is the supposed start to their immortal relationship. And since then Holi and Phag or the color has been associated with the divine love of Radha and Sri Krishna.
Significance of Holi
Holi, as mentioned earlier is an important festival, and signifies quite a number of things. IT signifies the end of the long winter and ushers in spring with its riot of colors. According to literary evidence of the 17th century, Holi celebrated agriculture, good harvest and the boon of fertile lands. It also emphasizes of the end of tyranny and triumph of goodness. According to many people it is a time to renew acquaintances and relationships and repay old debts. Holi is celebrated every year to remind all the people that those who are devoted to the almighty will always find a savior and those who tyrannize will face demolition.
Things that are done on Holi
Preparations for ushering in Holi starts well in advance. People stock up on all kinds of colors and pichkari s or small water sprinklers. Women prepare papri, gujiya and mathri as delicacies for this auspicious day. In the Braj region, there is a day associated with the festival where the men cover themselves with shields, and the women beat them up playfully! People all form small groups called toil s and go around playing the dholak, or a kind of drum singing Holi songs. There is also a tradition of consuming Bhang on this day.
Holi celebration in Gujarat
In Gujarat, people celebrate Holi amidst color and dance, in Uttar Pradesh people gather in the Radha Rani Temple to see the Lath-Mar Holi where women go around beating the men. Vrindavan in U P, the birthplace of Sri Krishna sees special pujas and arati being held. In other parts of the country too the color of festival is celebrated with fanfare, excitement and frivolity.
Dol Jatra or Basant Utsav in West Bengal
Holi or Dol Jatra as it is known Bengal takes a different color altogether. In Bengal, it is a festival which is the harbinger of the beautiful spring, a literary, artistic and aesthetic festival all rolled into one.
Basant Utsav or the Festival of Spring was as a concept introduced by the Nobel Laureate post Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan, the university he founded and propagated. Students here welcome the advent of spring through dance and music and the chanting of Vedic hymns amidst the beautiful greenery of Shantiniketan. It is one of the major festivals of Bengal, where people flock from near and far to witness this celebration.
Then on the day of the Purnima, students don saffron sarees, and kurta pajama and sing gleefully along with musical accompaniment beautifully decked up in garlands and flowers.
The Holi celebrating the Radha and Krishna in Bengal takes on a different and dignified approach with the deities being put up in decorated palanquins and taken around the main streets in the city. People play with gulal or abir. People fast and offer prayers to Lord Krishna and Agnidev. After the rituals are over a vegetarian bhog or prasadam is offered to Radha and Krishna.
Happy Holi 2017