HOLI, or HOLIKA in Hindu, is the Indian Spring Festival of Colors that is celebrated each year at the approach of the vernal equinox, in March or sometimes February, on the night of Phaguna Purnimal, or the night of the full moon. The event is a carnival-like atmosphere heralding the end of winter, and the start of spring, which also translates into marking the end of the “dead” period calling for the beginning of new life. The proceedings begin the night before with a huge Holika (little Holi) Bonfire signifying the burning of the old to make way for the new. The participants dance and sing around the fire adding fuel to it’s intensity, until, in the wee hours, the fire burns out. In some sections of India the festival lasts 16 days.
The next day the celebration begins, first with children who take powered colors throwing them at each other. Some use colored water filled balloons, water guns, and hoses. No one is spared, young or old, friend or foe, all are fair game marked, splashed, spattered, and drenched in brilliant shades of every hue. The powered pigments cover the children and their surroundings, carpeting the streets and eventually creating rivers of intensely dyed liquid that runs ahead of the crowd. The tints are traditionally made of natural plant and spice-derived sources like tumeric, palash, neem, menehdi, indigo, dhak, kumkum, and beetroot, as they are washable and non-permanent. Everyone takes delight in surprising their target with a sudden splash of an intensely saturated shade, or an unexpected face bomb of brightly tinted powder filling the air.
As the day grows on the adults join in with buckets of colored water, pastes, and more powders as they smear, throw, and douse each other creating a kaleidoskopic, Jackson Pollock effect on everything in sight. The air is filled with a haze of hot pink, blazing bright orange, fiery red, golden yellow, cobalt blue, emerald green, and gleaming turquoise looking like a thousand Jinni escaped their bottles. The momentum builds as the music and dancing escalate, creating a captivating chaotic, carnival-like atmosphere that intensifies to an all out free-for-all that is part religious celebration, part festival, and part mosh-pit mash-up where people are literally carried by the crowd through the streets absorbed in a color induced trance-like state. In the evening after the celebration the color is washed away and the revelers partake in a meal of delicacies and sweets.
In the Braj region of India, where Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days until Rangpanchmi. There is a symbolic commemoration myth that explains how Holi came about. The tale surrounds the Baby Krishna who transitioned into his characteristic dark blue skin color because a she demon named Putana poisoned him with her breast milk. Krishna despairs wondering whether fair skinned Radha and other Gopikas (girls) will like him because of the color of his skin. His mother tired of the desparation, and asked him to approach Radha and color her face any color he wanted. This he did, and Radha and Krishna became a couple. the playful coloring of the face of Radha has henceforth been commemorated as “HOLI”. The translation of this tale, and the cultural significance of Holi are explained as a festival honoring the moment that Krishna and Radha fell in love and it is dedicated to change, ridding oneself of the past errors, leaving behind the old, and moving on to the new, a time to end old conflicts by meeting others, a day to forget and forgive, a day to create new opportunities in joy. During these days people pay or forgive old debts, as well as deal anew with those in their lives. Holi marks the start of something fresh, namely Spring, and burns off the old and the destructive past in the bonfire the night before the festivities so that the morning can bring a new beginning.
Holi is celebrated all over India, in different states, and provinces with different origins, lengths of time, and meanings. It has also spread around the globe from Eastern countries that boarder the Indian Ocean to Caribbean and South American Nations like Guyana, to Island nations like Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, and Indonesia. it is even celebrated in some places in America as an alternative to Carnivale, or simply as a way to celebrate the rebirth of nature in a joyous and colorful celebration of the new spirit.