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Holi Festival – The Festival of Colour

The Hindu Holi Festival – also known to many as the Indian Colour Festival is one of the most colourful and popular festivals of the Hindu faith in India. Colourful, wet and loud – that’s how you could sum it up. On the one hand, the Holi festival celebrates the victory over the demoness Holika, and on the other, it honours Sri Krishna. Because of its peaceful exuberance and colourfulness, it is now also celebrated in Europe as a so-called Holi parties.

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What is the meaning of Holi?

It is said that the Hindu spring festival Holi (holi = derived from Hindi) owes its name to the demoness Holika. This is based on the following legend:

A demon king, who wanted to be worshipped alone by everyone, was angry with his son Prahlad because he worshipped Narayana (another name for Vishnu). Because he did not succeed in killing his son, the demon king entrusted this task to his sister Holika. A blessing surrounded her so that she could not burn. She sat down with the king’s son in a fire to kill him. But instead she burnt to death because the blessing only protected Holika when she was alone. The demon’s son, who was quoting Vishnu’s name “Narayana” all the time, survived. Due to his divine devotion, Vishnu saved him from the flames.

For this reason, Holi is celebrated as a festival of good over evil and a triumphal procession of divine worship.

There is a second legend about Holika. In this one, Holika – also called Putana – was a cannibal living in India long ago who preferred to devour children. She was killed by Krishna, who thus saved all the children of India.
The special thing about Holi is that it is celebrated by all Indians together, regardless of which caste they belong to. Old disputes are also settled and often new friendships are made during the holiday.

The Hindu spring festival is known mainly in Nepal and northern India as Holi. In other regions of India it is called Kamadahana (South India), Dol Yatra (in Bengal) or Phagvah.

When is the Holi Festival celebrated?

The festival of colours Holi is celebrated in spring and can last between 2 and 10 days. It is the oldest festival in India. The Holi festival starts after the last full moon day in the month of Phalguna – which roughly corresponds to the period between February and March in our calendar. It basically begins on the eve of Holi with the Holika Dahan – the “pyre of Kamudu”, when replicas of the demoness Holika made of wood or straw are burnt. The day after, the Holi colour festival continues colourfully and happily for one or more days.

Why do people celebrate Holi in India?

According to the Bhagavad Gita (one of the most important sacred scriptures in Hinduism), spring is seen as a time of divine manifestation and revelation. The scriptures refer to Holi as the heart of God.

Holi is a joyous, exuberant festival where all people, regardless of caste, come together, sing, dance and splash each other with coloured water or coloured powder – the gulal. The call “Bura na maano, Holi Hai!” can be heard everywhere, which translates as “Don’t hold it against me, it’s Holi!”.

During the Holi Festival, India is in a execeptional situation. While normally all people here are divided into castes from birth according to the Dharma – the holy world order – to which they belong throughout their lives, the caste system is suspended on Holi and the social barriers fall away. The splashing of colour on each other can also be understood as a sign of the equality that prevails on these festive days.
The colours on Holi are also said to have a symbolic meaning.

The Holi Colours

  • Red stands for happiness and love
  • Orange stands for optimism
  • Blue stands for liveliness
  • Green stands for harmony

Since the Holi Festival also honours Sri Krishna, who is known for his pranks at a young age, especially the young play little tricks on passers-by on these days.

While in a religious sense Holi represents the triumph of good over evil, in a social sense it stands for the ending of all disputes and the forgetting of all social differences – at least for the duration of the Holi Festival. And in nature, the colour festival marks the victory of spring over winter.

What do you do on Holi

In the context of the Holi Festival, not only people and buildings are transformed into brightly coloured objects, but also the Ganges River is permeated with colour. At the end of the Indian colour festival, people bathe in the Ganges so that its waters shimmer in bright colours in the evening.

Despite all the exuberance, the Holi festival still has a deep religious meaning today, and so the colours for the festival are consecrated on the altar beforehand and people offer blessings.

Traditionally, Bhang or Bhang Thandai – the so-called hemp milk – is drunk during the Holi festival. It consists of dried leaves and flowers of the female hemp plant (THC value below 0.5% = only slightly psychoactive), spices such as cardamom and saffron mixed with water or milk.

The many delicacies that can be eaten on Holi are also very popular. These include ladoos (dough balls), deep-fried sweet jalebis (dough curls) and gulab jamun in sugar syrup (deep-fried milk dough balls).

Similar festivals in other cultures

Spring festivals, which are celebrated to bid farewell to winter and welcome spring, also exist in other cultures, such as Nouruz in Iranian culture.

The fact that in the Holi festival all standards regarding castes are disregarded shows its similarity to other festivals from the European cultural area, such as carnival, in that a uniformity of people is created through dressing up. Such a momentary dropping of social boundaries also links Holi to Mardi Gras in the USA.

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