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Holi (Hindi: होली | Bengali: দলি পূর্নিমা | Marathi: शिमगो | Gujarati: હુલોસની


 Holi (Hindi: लठमार होली; फागु पूर्णिमा | Bengali: দলি পূর্নিমা; বসন্ত উত্সাভ | Marathi: शिमगो; रंगपंचमी | Gujarati: હુલોસની | Punjabi: ਦੁਲਾਂਦੀ ਹੋਲੀ; ਹੋਲਾ ਮੋਹਲ੍ਲਾ | Tamil: காமன் பண்டிகை) originally known as “Holika,” is an ancient Indian festival, the significance of which has changed over the years.  In the olden days Holi was believed to be a special rite performed by married women to ensure the happiness and well-being of their families.

Holi-Festival-In-India-117th March, 2014 in various states with different names

Lathmaar Holi

Dulandi Holi


Basant Utsav

Dol Purnima

Hola Mohalla


Kaman Pandigai

Phagu Purnima


Holi festival date is based on Hindu lunar calendar. It is annually celebrated at end of winter, on the last full moon day of Lunar month Phalguna. Holi Day usually falls in February or March.  Holi Festival always occurs in spring when the countryside is bathed in a riot of colours in any case. Matching the yellow-gold of mustard fields, the loud magenta of bougainvillea blooms and the blazing orange of the flame of the forest, Indians take on every colour available in this festival of the spring.


Holi gets us close to our religion and our mythology as it is essentially the celebration of various legends associated with the festival.

Foremost is the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. The legend says there once lived a devil and powerful king, Hiranyakshyap who considered himself a god and wanted everybody to worship him. To his great ire, his son, Prahlad began to worship, Lord Vishnu. To get rid of his son, Hiranyakshyap asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap, as she had a boon to enter fire unscathed. Legend has it that Prahlad was saved for his extreme devotion for the lord while Holika paid a price for her sinister desire. The tradition of burning Holika or the ‘Holika dahan’ comes mainly from this legend.

Holi also celebrates the legend of Radha and Krishna which describes the extreme delight, Krishna took in applying colour on Radha and other gopis. This prank of Krishna later, became a trend and a part of the Holi festivities.

Mythology also states that Holi is the celebration of death of Ogress Pootana who tried to kill infant, Krishna by feeding poisonous milk to it.

Another legend of Holi which is extremely popular in Southern India is that of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva. According to the legend, people in south celebrate the sacrifice of Lord of Passion Kaamadeva who risked his life to revoke Lord Shiva from meditation and save the world.

Also, popular is the legend of Ogress Dhundhi who used to trouble children in the kingdom of Raghu and was ultimately chased away by the pranks of the children on the day of Holi.  Showing their belief in the legend, children till date play pranks and hurl abuses at the time of Holika Dahan.


Cultures , Rituals and Festive:

Rituals of the ancient festival of Holi are religiously followed every year with care and enthusiasm.

Days before the festival people start gathering wood for the lighting of the bonfire called Holika at the major crossroads of the city. This ensures that at the time of the actual celebration a huge pile of wood is collected.

Holika Dahan Celebrations
Then on the eve of Holi, Holika Dahan takes place. Effigy of Holika, the devil minded sister of demon King Hiranyakashyap is placed in the wood and burnt.  The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of a true devotee.

Children also hurl abuses at Holika and pray pranks, as if they still try to chase away Dhundhi who once troubled little ones in the Kingdom of Prithu. Some people also take embers from the fire to their homes to rekindle their own domestic fires.

Play of Colors

Next day, is of course the main day of Holi celebrations. The day is called Dhuleti and it is on this day that the actual play of colours take place. There is no tradition of holding puja and is meant for pure enjoyment.
The tradition of playing colours is particularly rampant in north India and even in that region, there can be no comparison to the Holi of Mathura and Vrindavan. In Maharashtra and Gujarat too Holi is celebrated with lot of enthusiasm and fun.

People take extreme delight in spraying colour water on each other with pichkaris or pouring buckets and buckets of it. Singing Bollywood Holi numbers and dancing on the beat of dholak is also a part of the tradition. Amidst all this activity people relish gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other traditional Holi delicacies with great joy.

Drinks, specially thandai laced with bhang is also an intrinsic part of the Holi festivity. Bhang helps to further enhance the spirit of the occasion but if taken in excess it might dampen it also. So caution should be taken while consuming it.

Holi Celebrations in Different states of India  with unique names:

Phagu Purnima is another name for Holi where Phagu means the sacred red powder and Purnima or Pune is the full moon day, on which the festival ends.  In Bihar people clean their houses a week before Holi and start collecting twigs, unnecessary furniture, and chopped wood of araad, redi and holika tree and pile it up at some place for lighting the Holi. On the first day of Holi, thalis of colour and a pot of liquid colour are arranged. The elder member of the family applies some colour on the forehead of each member in the family. Each family member repeats the same. Youngsters apply colours to the feet of their elders. People gather together for the Holika fire. At some places mud baths are prepared. High-pitched folk songs, use of dholaks along with drinking of bhang are seen during Holi.


In Uttar Pradesh effigies of Holika are burnt. On the night of Holi (Phalgun Poornima) it is lit with the chanting of Raksogna Mantras from Rig-Veda and so on. People offer   prayer to the fire and pray for a good harvest. This day is also called as Puno. They offer gram and stalks from the harvest along with coconuts and flowers to render gratitude. It is believed that Holi is named after fried cereals or parched grains called, as Holla in Sanskrit. It is also a tradition to offer wheat and oat. Scorched coconuts are taken home as Prasad.

Latthmar Holi is another name of Holi as is called in Braj. It`s a two-week long festival enjoyed with Hori and Raslila. The preparations start a week before than the rest of India. It is really a severe form of Holi played in honour of Lord Krishna.   The men-folk of Nandgaon go to Barsana to tease and play Holi with the women-folk. They also have to pull up their flag at the famous Shri Radhikaji temple. The women strike back with long sticks and men have to save themselves; hence the name Latthmar. They have to make way to the temple to hoist their flag. They are well padded and are trained not to retaliate. They shouldn’t’ get caught at the hands of women. The ones who are caught are made to wear women attire and make-up and made to dance.

The next day, it is the turn of men of Barsana. They visit Nandgaon showering colours of reds. These are natural colours made from flowers of Kesudo. They are similarly beaten up by the women-folk of Nandgaon. It is also celebrated in Vrindavan, Gokul, Nandgaon, Barsana. At Dauji in Nandgaon, people beat men with whips made from old clothes. It starts from Shukla Chaturdadhi of Phalgun.


In Bengal, Holi is known as Dol Jatra or Dol Purnima. Here, people put on yellow clothes and attend Jatra, which is a peaceful ceremony. It is celebrated as the birthday of Mahaprabhu ChaitanyaPeople decorates the idol of Lord Krishna and Radha and carries it on the streets in a beautifully decorated palanquin.  Holi by the name of Basant Utsav is celebrated with fervour in the state of West Bengal. The tradition of Vasantotsav, meaning Spring Festival was started by poet and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan, the University he founded.

What is appreciated is the grace and diginified manner in which Vasant Utsav is celebrated in West Bengal as compared to boisterous Holi witnessed in most parts of India. Boys and girls joyfully welcome Spring, the season of hope not just with colours but with songs, dance, chanting of hymns in the serene ambiance of Shantiniketan. Anybody who got a chance to witness this elegant way of celebrating Holi in Bengal remembers it with fond memory for the rest of his life.


People of Orissa also celebrate Holi by worshipping God Jagannath and visit the Puri temple in Orissa on this day. Idol of Lord Jagannath is placed in the decorated palanquin and a procession is taken out in the main streets. Gwalas carry the palanquin on their shoulders as Krishna belonged to their clan. They play games such as Dandi Khela and they set up special tents, Jhoolan mandap, to place the idol of Lord Jagannath at night.


Initiated in the 18th century with Vaishnavism, Holi is celebrated for six days in Manipur. An amalgamation of Holi and another very old festival called Yaosang is observed, when Holi is played here. A thatched hut of mud and clay is burnt, in the evening. In Manipur, boys have to pay the girls to play Holi with them. Dances, devotional songs, cultural programmes are organized at temples. Devotees gather in white dresses and yellow turbans and play with colours in front of the temple. Large procession is taken to the Krishna temple near Imphal on the last day.

The other tribes of Northwest India have their own ways celebrating this spring festival. They light fire on the eve of Holi and these tribes worship the goddess. They have preserved some of the Hindu customs. Tribesmen offer kesudo and mango spring flowers and grains to the Holika. The young men and women are able to make contacts, which further give way to marriages.


In Himachal Pradesh thousands of people gather at Ponta-Sahib, a holy shrine in the Sirmour district on the banks of Yamuna River.  People here are more enthusiastic about playing colours. Fascinating Ice Holi is played in.   People gather at the Slang Pass and make colourful snowballs by mixing colour and snow.


Hola Mohalla is an annual festival in Punjab’s Sikh community and was started by Guru Gobind Singh. It is fair starting on second day of Holi at Anantapur Sahib in Punjab. It is a three-day festival and it incorporates events such as standing on two running horses, bareback horse riding, mock fights and tent pegging. Kirtan and religious lectures are also arranged in durbars in the presence of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. On the last day a procession is led by Panj Pyaras from Takht Keshgarh Sahib. This procession passes through several important Gurudwaras like Qila Anadgarh, Lohgarh Sahib, and Mata Jitoji and terminates at the Takht. For people visiting Anandpur Sahib, langars are organized as a part of sewa.


The colourful Holi in Gujarat is also significant for tribals of Garasia and Bhil Adivasis. They get together at Darbargarh and also arrange fairs at Chhota Udaipur and the Rajpipla hills. Dangs Darbar, Satpura and north Gujarat are full of fairs even after Holi. Holi in Gujarat is also known as Hulosani. They light Holika with the fire brought from the temple of Mata. People offer, raw mangoes, coconut, corn, toys made of sugar, khoya to the Holika. The ash from the pyre of Holika is used in the preparation of idols of goddess Amba. Young women wishing for a handsome groom decorate these idols with flowers.


People of Maharashtra commonly know this festival of colours by the name of Rangpanchami as the play of colours is reserved for the fifth day here..  Locals of Maharashtra also know  colourful Holi in Maharashtra  as Shimgo. It is significant in fisherman community. The folksongs, folk dances, colours are the essence of Holi here. People let out their repressed feelings through this dance. People also make an unusual sound by striking their mouth with the back of their hands. Puranpoli is a sweet exclusively prepared in Maharashtra. People drink sugarcane juice and eat watermelon juice. Rowdiness during Holi is observed in many parts of Maharashtra. It was on this day that Jijabai, splashed coloured water on young Shahaji, since their engagement was announced that day.


In Goa a procession is carried which plays religious and mythological stories. Here too, Holi is called Shigmotsav, Shigmo. People of Goa perform Naman from the 9th moon day to the full-moon day and avoid non-vegetarian food and alcohol. From the 11th day of Holi, people decorate their doorframes with torans. Some village` groups wear most colourful dresses and gather at the village temples at the beat of drums and the sound of flutes. They dance and sing in the temple courtyards. The 5th day is the day of fun and is called Rangpanchami. Celebrations are different at various places. Usually gulal and neel is used.


Holi recieves this name in the state of Haryana. Here, bhabhi – the brothers wife gets an upper hand on the day of holi. And, devar’s – husband’s younger brothers need to watchout.

The bhabhi’s on this day get a social sanction on Holi to beat their devars and make them pay the price of all the pranks they played on them for the entire year. Bhabhi’s roll up their saris in the form of a rope in a mock rage, and give a good run to their devars.
In the evening, devars are supposed to bring sweets for their dear bhabhi.

Besides, there is also a tradition of breaking the pot of buttermilk hung high in the street by forming a human pyramid.


In the state of Tamil Nadu, people worship Kaamadeva for his supreme sacrifice on the occasion of Holi. People know Holi by three different names Kaman Pandigai, Kamavilasand Kama-Dahanam.

The Legend
People of Tamil Nadu have great faith in the legend of Shiva and Kaamadeva. The story goes that Shiva went into deep meditation after the death of his consort, Sati. Due to Shiva’s indifferent attitude gods became tensed and worried. Also, daughter of the mountains, Parvati started mediating to get Shiva as her husband.

To get Shiva back to his original self gods seeked the help of Kaamadeva- the god of love. Fully aware of the repurcussions of such an act, Kaamdeva agreed to help gods for the good of the world. He shot his powerful arrow on Shiva when he was in deep meditation. Enraged, Shiva opened his third eye and burnt Kaamadeva to ashes. However, the arrow had the desired effect and Shiva agreed to marry Parvati.

Rati, Kaamadeva’s wife though felt sad about the whole episode. She narrated the pathetic tale to Shiva and requested him to revive Kaamdeva. To which Shiva happily agreed.

In Tamil Nadu songs are sung on holi depicting Rati’s extreme sorrow and people offer sandalwood to Kaamadeva to easen the pain of burning. People also believe that Kaamdeva was revived on the day of Holi and hence celebrate the festival in his name.


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