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What is the Holi festival?

by Sara Wells

Holi, a traditional Hindu festival, celebrates the beginning of spring and takes place over two days. It is a celebration of fertility, colour and love, as well as the triumph of good over evil. Holi is one of the major festivals of India and is the most vibrant of all.

Holi Festival IndiaAlthough the festival originated in India and is still widely celebrated there as a religious festival, it has been adopted in many places around the world.

It is best known  for the powder that revellers throw on each other, leaving festival goers coated in colour by the end of the day. But this is just one part of Holi, which is split into two events: Holika Dahan and Rangwali Holi.

Holika Dahan takes place the night before Rangwali Holi. Wood and dung-cakes are burned in a symbolic pyre to signify good defeating evil (in Hindu Vedi scriptures, the God Vishnu helps burn the devil Holika to death). The next morning, people gather in public spaces and take part in Rangwali Holi. This is a raucous affair where people chase each other around, throwing handfuls of coloured powders (known as gulal) at one another, while getting drenched in water.

What is the coloured powder and what does it mean?

Historically, the gulal was made of turmeric, paste and flower extracts, but today synthetic versions are largely used.

The four main powder colours are used to represent different things. Red reflects love and fertility, blue is the colour of Krishna, yellow is the colour of turmeric and green symbolises spring and new beginnings.

When is Holi?

The timing of Holi is synchronised with the moon, which means that the dates of each celebration varies year on year. In 2019, Holi festival will take place on 20-21st March.

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Why is it celebrated?

In the scheme of Hindu celebrations, Holi is a relatively secular one. It draws on various mythologies. First and foremost is the burning of the devil Holika, but it also draws on the legend of Radha and Krishna. Krishna loved Radha, but felt self-conscious about how different their skin-colours were. So on the advice of his mother, he went and playfully painted her face so it was the same colour as his. It is said that lovers often celebrate Holi in this tradition, by colouring their faces the same colour during the celebrations.

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Local man celebrating Holi

However, Holi is mostly seen as a time for people to get together and enjoy themselves. It is purported to be a time when friends, families and communities can get together without any concern for caste or ethnicity, although how much this holds true in reality is debatable. That said, there are certain groups that take its religious elements more seriously than others. In the Braj region of India, celebrations last for 16 days.

Finally… how can I get the powder off my skin?

The best way to prevent any powder from sticking to your skin is to moisturise well beforehand. Some people also oil their hair so that the powder is easier to remove, or wear a hat. It is also recommended that anyone taking part uses home-made powders with ingredients that are guaranteed to be non-harmful. One way you can do this is by putting together a mix of flour, water and a few splashes of food dye.


Would you be interested in taking part in the Holi festival as part of a holiday to India? Have a look at our India holiday ideas for some inspiration. Alternatively, do get in touch with us on 020 3432 2224 or via email here.


 

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