Holi is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Phalugna or Falguna (Phalgun Purnima), which usually falls in the later part of February or March. It is also called the Festival of Colours. In 2009, Holi (Dhulandi) is on 11th March.
History of Holi
In Vaishnava Theology, Hiranyakashipu is the king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after which he had demanded that he not be killed “during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or on sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra”. Consequently, he grew arrogant, and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping gods and start praying to him.
Despite this, Hiranyakashipu’s own son, ([Prahlada]), was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Lord Vishnu. He was poisoned but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, poisonous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu’s attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre on the lap of his sister, Holika, who could not die by fire by virtue of a shawl which would prevent fire affecting the person wearing it. Prahlada readily accepted his father’s orders, and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as the shawl flew from Holika, who then was burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed, after the shawl moved to cover him. The burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.
How is Holi celebrated
On the eve of Holi, Holika is burnt in keeping with the legend of Prahlad and his devotion to lord Vishnu. In the evening, huge bonfires are lit on street corners at the crossroads. Usually this is a community celebration and people gather near the fire to fill the air with folk strains and dances. Sheaves of green gram and wheat are roasted in the bonfire and eaten.
On the day of Holi, Children, friends and neighbours gather on the streets and a riot of colour takes over. Coloured powders called ‘abeer’ or ‘gulal’ are thrown into the air and smeared on faces and bodies. ‘Pichkaris’ are filled with coloured water and this is spurted onto people. Water balloons are thrown at friends and neighbours in the spirit of fun. Sometimes, mud baths are prepared and people are ‘dunked’ into this amidst much laughter and teasing. The visitors carry ‘abeer’ or ‘gulal’ to pay their respects to elders by sprinkling some on their feet. The younger crowd is drenched with buckets of coloured water and pummeled with water balloons. ‘Dholaks’ or Indian drums are heard everywhere and the songs of Holi are carried by the voices of these merry-makers.
There is no ‘puja’ or worship associated with this festival of colours. Some ‘gulal’ or ‘abeer’ is smeared on the faces of the Gods, especially Krishna and Radha, at the commencement of the festivities.