Monday, March 21, 2011
May all be auspicious, may all attain peace, let there be fullness and contentment all over, may all be blessed.
Om peace, peace, peace.
May the colors of Holi fill your life with brilliance, joy, friendship, acceptance, discipline and adherence to Truth!
Pakistan Hindu League (PHL)
History of Holi
The exact origin of the festival can not be found, though several historians claim that the Holi celebration in the country was brought along with the Aryans. It is also quoted as a reason that Holi is still celebrated with great zeal in the more Aryan dominant Northern and Eastern India. There is also a detailed description of this festival in early religious works such as Jaimini's Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. Several other religious and historical texts also discuss in detail about the festival.
It is said that Holi is celebrated in India, since an immemorial time, even in the period before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the eras and phases. Long ago, Holi was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness, well-being and prosperity of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped for bringing auspiciousness and pleasure. With time the way of celebration has changes. Also, the prominent legends related to the festival have changed with time.
Reference in Ancient Texts and Inscriptions
Holi has a detailed description in the ancient Vedas and Puranas such as ‘Narad Purana’ and ‘Bhavishya Purana’. The festival of Holi also finds detailed descriptions in the Jaimini Mimansa. During an excavation, a stone inscription of 300 BC was found at Ramgarh and this stone inscription has mention of ‘Holikotsav’ i.e. the ‘celebrations of Holi’ written on it. This gives logic to the theories of the historian who believe Holi to be a celebration even before the birth of Christ. Other ancient references like the mention of holikotsav in King Harsha’s Ratnavali written during 7th century and the description of holikotsav in the travelogues of Ulbaruni, support the fact that Holi is not a nascent celebration in the country.
Rituals of Holi
Rituals of the ancient festival of Holi are religiously followed every year with care and enthusiasm.
Days before the festival people start gathering wood for the lighting of the bonfire called Holika at the major crossroads of the city. This ensures that at the time of the actual celebration a huge pile of wood is collected.
Holika Dahan Celebrations
Then on the eve of Holi, Holika Dahan takes place. Effigy of Holika, the devil minded sister of demon King Hiranyakashyap is placed in the wood and burnt. For, Holika tried to kill Hiranyakashyap's son Prahlad, an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of a true devotee.
Children also hurl abuses at Holika and pray pranks, as if they still try to chase away Dhundhi who once troubled little ones in the Kingdom of Prithu. Some people also take embers from the fire to their homes to rekindle their own domestic fires.
Play of Colors
Next day, is of course the main day of Holi celebrations. The day is called Dhuleti
and it is on this day that the actual play of colours take place. There is no tradition of holding puja and is meant for pure enjoyment.
The tradition of playing colours is particularly rampant in north India and even in that region, there can be no comparison to the Holi of Mathura and Vrindavan. In Maharashtra and Gujarat too Holi is celebrated with lot of enthusiasm and fun.
People take extreme delight in spraying colour water on each other with pichkaris or pouring buckets and buckets of it. Singing Bollywood Holi numbers and dancing on the beat of dholak is also a part of the tradition. Amidst all this activity people relish gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other traditional Holi delicacies with great joy.
Drinks, specially thandai laced with bhang is also an intrinsic part of the Holi festivity. Bhang helps to further enhance the spirit of the occasion but if taken in excess it might dampen it also. So caution should be taken while consuming it.
Holi Celebrations in South India
In south India, however, people follow the tradition of worshiping Kaamadeva, the love god of Indian mythology. People have faith in the legend which speak about the great sacrifice of Kaamadeva when he shot his love arrow on Lord Shiva to break his meditation and evoke his interest in worldly affairs.
After, an eventful and funfilled day people become a little sober in the evening and greet friends and relatives by visiting them and exchange sweets. Holi special get togethers are also organised by various cultural organisations to generate harmony and brotherhood in the society.
Reference in Ancient Paintings and Murals
Apart from the reference in the religious and historical texts, Holi also finds a reference in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century temple at Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagar (now in Karnataka) has a panel sculpted with the joyous scene of Holi celebrations. This painting illustrates a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids who are waiting with pichkaris to drench the couple in colored water. Another painting on the theme related to Holi, the Vasanta Ragini - spring song or music is found in Ahmednagar in Maharashta. This 16th century painting depicts a royal couple sitting on a huge swing, and several maidens surrounding them playing music and spraying colors with pichkaris.
There are several other illustrations and paintings belonging to medieval India that can be found in the temples and palaces of that era. An interesting painting of Mewar (circa 1755) illustrates the Maharana with his courtiers bestowing gifts and riches on his people while a merry dance is going on. Also, there is water tank filled with colored water in the center of his courtyard. Similarly, a Bundi miniature depicts a king seated on his tusker and some beautiful women showering Gulal (colored powders) on him. These are few of the examples which Holi has been an integral part of the country since ever. It existed here before Christ was born; it continued in the medieval era and is being celebrated in the country till now.
Importance Of Holi Festival
The cultural significance of Holi can be gauged from the fact that its origin derives reference from various mythological tales. This has led to a deep faith and respect towards the celebration of the festival, as Indians strongly believe in mythology. The moral behind all these stories is victory of good over evil, which is a lesson for the human race. The tales instill the faith of man into the ultimate power of God and his mercy over his devotees. Holi festival is the medium through which people are inspired to lead a virtuous life. Moreover, the festival is organized at the time when the harvest is at full bloom, giving people an opportunity to rejoice.
The social significance of Holi is seen in the form of the message of unity and brotherhood, it delivers. As per the custom and tradition, people pay visits to their friends and relatives, to give them wishes as well as to strengthen their bonds. The festival brings the nation together, as it is not just celebrated by Hindus but, also by the Sikhs, Christians, Jains as well. The festival is unique, as it does not discriminate against any section of the society and treats everyone equally. The social fabric and secular character of the society is strengthened, since people work on building cordial relations, forgiving their hard feelings for others.
Apart from the cultural and social significance of the festival, Holi considerably affects the biological system of our body. The time, at which Holi is celebrated, is very crucial with respect to our body. During the festival, the season is going through a change - from winter to summer. It is the period when people feel lethargic and drowsy. Holi provides them the opportunity to wear off their laziness, by enjoying themselves thoroughly.
The dance performances and the music played during the festival rejuvenate the mind and soul. The color, especially Abeer, penetrates the body and strengthens the ions, improving health and beauty. During the tradition of Holika Dahan, people circumambulate around it the fire. This ritual kills the bacteria in the body and makes it clean. During Holi, people clean their houses and remove clutter, thereby ensuring flow of positive energy. Therefore, it can be said that apart from rejuvenating the social ties, Holi provides a wonderful opportunity to let loose all the tension and de-stress the mind.
Holi is one of the major festivals of India and celebrated with immense joy and fervor throughout the country. It is celebrated in the month of Phalgun according to the Hindu calendar which commemorates with the month of March in the Gregorian calendar. The date of Holi is decided according to the Hindu calendar according to which the date lying on the Phalgun Purnima is considered the day for Holi. Though the festival is celebrated in most of the parts of the country, the celebrations have a regional influence in their rituals and traditions. The celebration of Holi is known as the ‘celebrations of colors and joys’. Holi starts at midnight with a bonfire of Holika and the celebrations come to climax in the morning when colors and music fill the entire atmosphere with zeal of joy and celebrations.
North India is famous for its rough and tough kind of Holi. Legends say that Lord Krishna spent most of his childhood in Mathura and Vrindavana and he was the one to introduce the modern form of Holi in this part of the country. That is why Holi is celebrated with great enthusiasm at these places for about a week. In North India, the Holi of Mathura and Vrindavana are specially known for its immense enthusiasm and zeal.
In Mathura and Vridavana, the major temples of the region dedicated to Krishna and Radha celebrate Holi on a different day. Very similar to these two places, in most of the North Indian states, Holi means getting drenched with colored water and gulal. It is considered auspicious as well as becomes quite enjoyable. The playful teasing by women and attempts by men to color them with 'gulal' and wet colors from 'pichkari', the attempts to escape and beating the men with sticks to scamper them away makes Holi very fun filling and enjoyable. These celebrations are accompanied with scrumptious food and lip smacking items.
Punjab and Haryana
In Punjab and Haryana, Holi is celebrated in a yet interested way. The brides of the families hang a pot of buttermilk high up in the streets and challenge to their brothers-in-law, who try to get to break the pot by forming a human pyramid. Women try to stop them by beating them with their saris rolled up as ropes. This mock-drama is staged to commemorate the playful pranks of child Krishna, who would steal milk, butter and curd from the maids' houses. In the evening, the brothers-in-law bring sweetmeats for the women of the house for their contribution in keeping the family united. The color play also takes place simultaneously.
Like Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat and other states of West India, also has mock-drama of Krishna trying to break the pots and steal the butter. Besides, this ‘Matka-breaking ceremony’, men in these states also takes out several grand processions singing Holi songs and poems. Soaked with colored water, they walk through the streets and sing to mock alert the people of the house in the locality to take care of their pots of butter and milk as Krishna may come in and steal them. At the time of evening, people visit each others home, exchange sweets and good wishes.
In eastern state of India, West Bengal has an interesting and different kind of Holi. In Bengal, Holi is called Dol Yatra (the Swing Festival) in which idols of Krishna and Radha are placed on swings and devotees take turns to swing them. Women perform devotional songs and dances around the swing as men spray colored water and 'Abeer' (colored powder) on them. However, the tradition is being lost gradually and the modern trend of playing with colored water and powders in the morning and then take out processions on the streets with music and drums has also influenced the Bengali Holi. In Orissa, traditions are similar to that of Bengal except for the fact that the idols of Jagannath is placed on the swing here instead of Krishna and Radha, who is believed to be another form of Krishna. The tradition of sweet exchange, feasting and color play has also become prominent in the state now.
'Vasanta Utsav' in Shantiniketan
Rabindranath Tagore, the Noble laureate from India, revived Holi as the Spring festival by introducing 'Vasanta Utsav' in his Shantiniketan or Bishwabharati University, which is celebrated here in a very special way. Students and youths dress up in bright colorful dresses such as yellow and stage a number of cultural programs involving group choreography, songs and dance followed by playing Holi with 'Abeer' (colored powder). Today, Vasanta Utsav has become an important part of the Bengali culture.
If we talk about the North Esatern Holi, the Holi of Manipur is interesting enough to draw the attention. Holi is a six-day long in Manipur and commences on the full moon day of Phalguna. In the 18th century, it merged with the traditional and centuries-old Yaosang festival of Manipur. In earlier times, there were folk songs and dance performances under the moonlight accompanied by the indigenous drums. Today, modern musical instruments have replaced the drums and fluorescent lamps have replaced the moonlight.
Days before, people collect money from the community for the expenses on the festivities. A thatched hut of hay, twigs and sticks is built, only to be set ablaze. Next morning, groups of boys go to play 'gulal' with the girls and pay them money to get the favor. Devotees play 'gulal', sing devotional songs and dance in front of the Krishna temple dressed in the traditional white and yellow turban. On the last day of the festival, a grand procession is taken out to the main Krishna temple in the capital of Manipur, Imphal where multitude of cultural programs take place.
Hindus residing in Pakistan also celebrate holi, though, of course, in not as grand a fashion as seen in India.
People celebrate the victory of good over evil forces by lighting bonfires called Holika. The tradition comes from the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakashyap. In fact, people follow the same traditions and rituals as in India due to their roots in India. People clean their houses and prepare special delicacies like gujiyas, papri and dahi badas. They meet up with friends and play with the colours, dance and generally have good time. Hindus usually gather in temples and celebrate the Holi there. Much gaiety can be seen in temples located in cities which have a comparatively greater Hindu population. Such as in Lahore and Sindh region.
Bengal region has a multifaceted culture due to the influence of Buddhist, Hindus and Muslim cultures. Of course, the pomp and show of Holi as witnessed in India is missing, nevertheless, celebrations do take place. Hindu community gather in temples and exchange greetings with each other and play with colours.
Indian culture has influenced Bangladesh a lot as the country is nestled in the crook of the Bay of Bengal and is surrounded by India. It shares a border in the south-east with Myanmar and fronts onto the Bay of Bengal. The country is flat and dominated by the braided strands of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Jamuna delta.
Holi is celebrated with great pomp and show in Nepal. Celebrations lasts for a week in which the entire country gets drenched in the coloured water.
Celebrations are of marked importance at Terai and also where Indian community mainly Marwaris have settled. Families and friends get together and celebrate the occasion with a lot of merry making.
All over the streets people can be watched having fun, throwing colours and water-balloons, locally called 'lolas' on each other.
Though play of colours takes place on the last day, a ceremonial pole called, 'chir' is installed on the first day. Chir is a bamboo pole fringed with strips of clothes representing good luck charms. As the pole is put up in the street at Basantapur, the festivities and worship commences for the week. At the end of the festivities chir is taken to a bonfire.
There is a popular legend behind the installation of chir. The story is again about the mischievous nature of Krishna who just loved to pray pranks with the milkmaids or gopis. Playful as he was, it is said that once he seduced all the local girls with his dashing good looks. He then danced with them all and when they fully engrossed in him, then he thought they were ripe for a tease. He doused them in coloured water and stole all their clothes while they were bathing in the water of river Yamuna. Naughty Krishna then hung their clothes on a tree to bug them. Chir symbolizes that very tree.
The other legends popular in India as that of Prahlad and his devilish father, Hiranyakashyap. Hiranyakashyap asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. However, Prahlad was saved for his extreme devotion by Lord Vishnu while Holika paid a price for her sinister desires. Every year just as in India people in Nepal light a bonfire- called Holika to mark the victory of good over evil.
Also known is the legend of Pootana who tried to kill infant Krishna by feeding her poisonous milk on the direction of devil hearted uncle of Krishna called Kansa.
Holi is celebrated with lot of mirth and excitement in Surinam which has a large number of Indians. Hindus constitute about 35-40% of the population, an important part of this is people who immigrated from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Just as in India, people here take great delight in spraying colour on each other and singing Holi songs. Holika is also burnt on the eve of Holi which is symbolic of victory of good over evil.
There is a similarity in the way Holi is celebrated in Surinam and that in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. Here too, people plant a castor oil plant weeks before the festival and this plant is burnt later as Holika. Between these days people engage themselves in nightly chowtaal and taan singing at each other's homes or at the temples.
Delicacies like bara, gulgula, phulourie, bigany, mango or tamarind chutney, potato ball, prasad, channa, ghoja, mahambhoog, kheer or sweet rice, among others beverage are prepared and served at the temples where large Holi gatherings takes place.
Hindus settled in UK do not miss out the excitement of Holi celebrations and enjoy to the hilt. Zeal for the festival is particularly marked in this country as Indians constitute the second largest ethnic minority. Celebrating festivals help them to feel close to their families and cultural roots.
The celebration of Holi is noticeable at places that witness a large congregation of Indians. The British city of Leicester is particularly known for its love for celebrating Indian festivals. Excitement reaches its peak when the occasion is that of celebrating a joyous festival like Holi.
Children love to use their spray cans and colour each other. Holi parades are also carried and in the evening people visit their friends and relatives to exchange greetings and sweets. They hug each other and also apply the tilak as the meet Holi in a traditional manner.
With a large population of Indians settled in the United States of America, Holi is celebrated with gaiety and lot of fanfare in this country.
Different societies formed by the Indians and religious organisations help people to celebrate this joyous festival and feel close to their cultural roots. Music programmes and Holi Meets are also organised by them to mark the occasion. These meets help the new generation to identify with their cultural root. Children learn to understand the significance of celebrating festivals and know legends asociated with them.
Great enthusiasm for the festival can be specially witnessed in cities where large number of Indians have settled. Holi celebrations are particularly marked in the city of New York.
Here Holi parades are taken out. People can be seen having so much fun in these parades as they play with the colour in the midst. There is so much revelry here that it becomes difficult to imagine that New York is not a part of India.
Bollywood actors also take time out to celebrate Holi with the people of USA doubling the excitement for the festival. Dance performance, fashion shows and music concerts further add to the festive spirit.