India, as we all know is a land of festivals. It’s rich heritage and multi faceted cultural significance certainly give it an edge of uniqueness over any other country. The heterogenous mix of beliefs, customs, traditions , cultures & faiths gives rise to many occasions of celebrations that helps in binding the masses that form the very crux of this diverse nation. Holi is one such famous festival that is celebrated at the onset of spring and is celebrated with much pomp all over the country. It is a festival of Hindus but is equally welcomed by the non- Hindu population of the nation. It is also called as the festival of love, festival of colors or even festival of spring owing to its various facets. This is because this festival marks the onset of spring season, marks the victory of good over the evil, signifies the blossoming of love and also marks the beginning of a good spring harvest season. Though from the beginning this festival was only celebrated to mark the harvesting of agrarian produce , it gained many significance over the period of time. It is celebrated in the Hindu month of ‘Phalgun‘ that is in mid March as per the English calender or the Gregarian calender as we all know it. It normally starts from the night of Purnima and lasts till the next day. On this day, people from all communities and from all strata; rich or poor assemble to play and rejoice the colors of unity. They mostly throw colourful gulal on each other, visit each other’s houses to exchange pleasantries and this helps establish the feeling of fraternity among the masses.
Significance of Holi
Religious significance: This festival is celebrated as Holika Dahan where bonfire is organized and the burning of Holika , the sister of King Hiranyakashyapu ,with Prahalad on her lap is commemorated. Prahalad was a staunch devotee of lord Vishnu and his father never allowed him to pray. His father’s wrath made him sit on the lap of his Aunt Holika , who was immune to fire . Prahalad’s faith in God not only saved him from the fire but simultaneously burnt Holika to ashes . This aspect focuses on celebrating the triumph of good over evil. There is another belief when Lord Shiva had burnt Kamadeva, the Hindu God of love & Passion when the later tried to disturb his meditation. It was only after the tapasya by Rati, (Kamadeva’s wife) that Lord Shiva realized that it was Goddess Parvati ( his own wife) who had asked Kamadeva to bring back Lord Shiva to the world after he had entered deep state of meditation. Lord Shiva , then took sympathy and revived the life of Kamadeva. This very day is also celebrated as Holi. There is also a popular belief that Lord Krishna expressed his pure divine love to his beloved Radha and this day is celebrated as Holi to mark the divine and pure love between two souls.
Social significance: This festival is a time when people forgive each other , end past conflicts and start a new page in their relationships . The unity gets strengthened and the divisive feelings are kept at bay. There has been cases where people try paying their debts and sometimes there debts are forgiven by moneylenders marking a new beginning in their respective lives. This festival is a festival of harmony and the norm is to have fun and indulge in happiness forgetting all miseries of life.
Holi Celebrations in different parts of the country
With different traditions and beliefs , this festival has different ways of celebration in different parts of the country. North Indian celebrations are more vivid with music and dance as compared to South India where focus is more on performing religious rituals. In parts of Mathura and Vrindaban , Holi is celebrated with much enthusiasm with special focus on Lord Krishna . There is a festival called ‘Matki Phod’ which means breaking the pot. A pottery pot is filled with mostly buttermilk and are hung in the streets at an high altitude. Then a group of boys and men form a human pyramid, balancing on each other’s backs and shoulders to reach the pot and break it with the head of the one at the top of the pyramid. Girls and women surround them, sing songs and throw colored water to distract them and make it harder. In Barsana, Uttar Pradesh, people celebrate Lath Mar Holi in the Radha Rani temple. Women beat men with sticks where men protect themselves with shields. It is believed that Sri Krishna and his friends were beaten with wooden sticks (Lath) by Radha and her friends, when they came to throw colors on them. In Eastern Parts the festival is dedicated to worship of Lord Krishna and Radha. In Odisha, Holi is celebrated as Dola Jatra or Dola Purnima with complete dedication to Lord Krishna. As per mythological interpretations, it is believed that Lord Krishna is believed to have expressed his pure love to Radha on this day. In this event,Idols of Lord Krishna and Radha are carried on Chariot shaped Bimaans(palanquin) on the shoulders of four men and smeared with colored powder, abheer is also thrown at people and on the streets as well. There is Shankha naad accompanying such processions.The first raw mangos of the season also adorn these special Bimaans and are offered as Bhog to the Lord. The lord visits each house in the locality and prayers and prasad is offered. The belief is to seek blessings for a new start in the Spring season. Lord Jagannatha, plays Holi with his devotees with fagu or abheer ( gulal) on Dola Purnima which again affirms the fact that the Lord of Puri Dham is continuously playing his Manava leela ( rituals that make the Lord to be treated just like human beings ) in Kal yuga .
Holi has grey shades to it as well
Whatever has been written above , is all about the ideal aspects of the festival which helps in social integration in our diverse society, helps in restoring broken relationships, blossoming of new bonds of love and friendship, rekindling of lost passion in many lives that are busy chasing dreams to live a happy life. This festival intends to add some colors of fun and amusement in our monotonous lives. However with changing times, this aspect has gathered some grey shades to it. Holi in many instances can be termed as hooliganism when some people just do not hesitate to cross the line and harass others in the name of having fun.
Holi & Women: Of late, many women prefer to stay indoors on the eve of Holi to avoid embarrassment and would rather sulk behind closed doors rather than being openly groped by some men who barge in and touch inappropriately in the name of putting colors. They normalise saying ,” Bura na mano ,Holi he !” ( Please do not feel bad, it’s Holi). They compare themselves with lord Krishna and take it as their right to play naughty games, How funny it is to understand that Lord Krishna never harassed Radha Sexually. Rather the divine unison between Krishna & Radha is almost impossible to attain even amongst true lovers. This is not only invasion of individual privacy but sheer sexual harassment in broad day light. It is so ironic, when Holi signifies the victory of good over bad yet normalises such unacceptable liberties at the cost of personal dignity and in a non-consensual way. Throwing of water balloons, or buckets of water on women, sometimes pushing women into swimming pools in the name of Holi is not only condemnable but should be strictly done away with it. Women might find it difficult as some might be on their periods and some might not simply enjoy any stranger touching them in the name of a festival. The outcry by women is often termed as an act of rebel and even the family members try to silence such voices just to avoid any future hassle or conflict . It is amusing and unfortunate, when the daughters or wives cry in the silent corners after being groped inappropriately, the other members are busy celebrating this bully game. If we are serious about stopping and controlling the crime against women, then this aspect of the festival that in a very subtle way, normalises the abuse of women, should be done away it . This can be tough but not impossible with stronger women resistance, educating boys from a young age to respect their counterparts and by teaching them to stop objectifying women. Women are beyond sexual piece of objects, with a heart that feels emotions and have real flesh and bones having layers of shame and personal space due to early conditioning as per societal norms.
Holi & Balancing of scores: Holi is often used as an opportunity to equate past rivalries . This is seen mostly among young men , who without any knowledge or understanding of the festival and it’s significance, focus on harassing the other person who they consider as their rival. The use of toxic colors and other skin irritants is common. There is use of force and violence in many cases. How can this be a part of any celebration? Such kind of behavior just showcases the kind of upbringing where parents accept every outrageous act of their spoilt children and end up making them part of such crimes. Sometimes, Bollywood movies showcasing such scenes act as idea boosters in young minds( in their teenage years )who do not think before planning such evil moves and actually implement it. The victim is mostly alone and sometimes his/ her cry for help does not reach the right ears. This kind of attitude shows an inclination towards having a hidden criminal mindset. This is a serious aspect that needs to be addressed to bring in the real colors of happiness in a festival.
Holi & Animal protection: Holi means playing with colors which we as humans wash off with water and soap after the game is over. Some fail to understand that stray animals suffer a lot when they are taken for granted on the occasion of Holi. One can find children or even grown ups putting colors and spraying Pichkaris on stray animals like cats, dogs, cows etc. This not only causes irritation in those furry creatures but also shows how inhuman can we become. Animal Rights activists have been long debating this issue but unless all of us understand the consequences of such inhuman behaviour with animals , nothing can change.
Lets make Holi a celebration of love, laughter & life
Due to the ongoing pandemic, Holi too , like our current life patterns will be different this year. As we have adjusted ourselves with the changing times by restraining our inflating greeds & wants , let us also take a step back, introspect within and understand the real meaning of our festivals. Let us keep our masks up (till we are corona free ) and also our level of compassion up as well in all times to come!
Wishing you all a colorful and pleasant Holi.