If you work in a multicultural environment or have any Indian friends, you’ve probably already heard about Holi. India’s festival of colors sees the population taking to the streets, spraying each other with paint and water! But, while Holi looks like a great excuse to get dirty, this vibrant festival’s symbolization runs way deeper.
So, if you’re wondering where your Indian colleagues are at this time of year, or you find yourself invited to a celebration, read up a little on it first. From demonic women to social equality, here’s what you need to know about Holi:
Holi represents the triumph of good over evil
Everyone's favorite Indian celebration is observed during Phalgun Purnima, falling sometime between the end of February and early March. Holi has ancient origins and traditionally marks the triumph of good over evil. Today, people celebrate by wearing their brightest colors and decorating their houses. They hug people to wish them “Happy Holi” and douse each other in colors! But this fun festival was actually born out of deep conspiracy and discord.
The very word “Holi” in fact, is derived from “Holika.” Holika was the demonic sister of the fearsome King Hiranyakashipu. With Holika at his side, the King became increasingly powerful. He burned in his desire to become immortal and to be a God himself. Hiranyakashipu warned his people to address him as a God, or suffer severe consequences.
Hiranyakashipu’s son, Prahlad, disagreed with the iron fist rule of his father. He refused to worship him as a God. Prahlad himself was an ardent follower of Lord Vishnu, who was widely revered as a God. This greatly angered the egotistical King, and he conspired several times to kill his son. Each time with the trickery and aid of the demoness, Holika. Each conspiracy attempt failed, and Prahlad was repeatedly saved by Lord Vishnu. Holika was eventually burned alive for her crimes.
Today, festivities begin with the burning of a large bonfire. This is a symbol of the burning of Holika, reminding people of the legend and of good winning over evil.
Equality and brotherhood
This is the one day of the year where social differences are forgotten. Everyone is regarded as equal. Indians are well-known for their cleanliness, but Holi allows everyone to get as filthy as possible! No rules are set. Revelers will attack and be attacked with spray paints, water balloons and color bombs! The idea of this tradition is that there is no more divide between the social classes. An array of colors melts away any social, religious or cultural differences.
The emphasis on Holi is to throw everyday norms out of the window! It’s a celebration of hope, light, an end of winter and the beginning of spring. Holi is also a symbol of youth and a chance for India’s young people to enjoy themselves and come alive. Young men are allowed to drench females with colors and water. This is something that would be unthinkable throughout the rest of the year.
Celebrated across the country
Holi is celebrated across India’s 28 states, although it is particular popular in the North. These bright celebrations can also be observed in parts of the world with large Indian communities, such as the United Kingdom and the United States. People gather together to feast and roast foods, such as popcorn and chick peas, on the fire.
Holi is as much of an explosion of dancing and music as it is of colors. You’ll see people celebrating from dusk till dawn. Covering each other in colored water and paint! You don’t have to be Hindu to join in the festivities. So, if you find yourself in this part of the world during Holi, make sure you leave your smartest clothes in your suitcase. This is definitely not the time to crank out your best white suit or dress!
You’ll be greeted on the streets by people yelling “bura na maano Holi hai,” -- before they throw colored water on top of you! This basically means, “no offense intended – this is Holi!” Then a slew of bright colors follows.
The colors have different meanings
Colors take on different meanings during Holi. Green is a symbol for purity in India, while red represents festivity. Magenta is thought to symbolize change, while orange is widely considered the color of happiness. Different colors are traditionally made with different materials, including herbs and spices, flowers and powders. Many weeks of preparation go into Holi, to get the colors just right.
In a land well-known for its colorful wedding celebrations, sarees and festivities, Holi is India’s most vibrant celebration. So, if you feel like joining in, get ready to get dirty! Happy Holi everyone!