On 10 March, many Hindus around the world will celebrate the festival of Holi. This is also known as the Festival of Colours.
As with a number of faith festivals, the date of Holi varies as it is linked to the phases of the moon. Holi is linked to the full moon that marks the change from winter to spring. So it is seen as promising the end of gloom and future bright summer days. This gives reason to one Holi ritual – the lighting of a bonfire the day before, and keeping it alight well into the night, even the next day if possible. It mustn’t be lit before sunset tonight, though, as traditionally that’s thought to a cause for bringing a lot of misfortune into life. The lighting of the bonfire is known as Holika Dahan.
Holi is known as the Festival of Colours because it can appear to be a free-for-all festival where people are invited to throw colourful powder over one another and drench each other with water pistols. Festival-goers in Hindu communities run through the streets, chasing one another, and decorating each other outside temples. Groups carry drums, encouraging the celebrations by dancing, music-playing and throwing more colour. Rather amazingly, people don’t seem to get angry when colour is thrown on them, but if they do get angry, the mantra to chant is “Holi Hai”.
As well as colourful fun, Holi is a time to forget and forgive, and to repair broken relationships. People visit family and friends to chat, laugh and gossip, and to share special Holi delicacies of food and drink.
There’s a couple of legends around how the festival started:
- One of the most popular is based on a story about Krishna. When he was a young man, the Hindu deity was embarrassed by his dark blue skin. He told his mother that he was worried his love Radha would not accept him. She told him to colour Radha’s face whatever colour he wanted. So he applied colour to make her one like him – and when he did, they became a couple.
- Another is based on a story about the god Vishnu destroying evil spirit Holika. It’s a classic story of good triumphing over evil, and that’s the main message of Holi celebrations nowadays.
- Another aspect of Holi, possibly based more on the Krishna legend, is to encourage everyone to break the barriers we build around ourselves and our ego.
At its heart, Holi teaches love in its most sublime form – a love where there is no selfishness, greed, envy or anger.
Holi is one of the most revered and celebrated festivals of India and it is celebrated in almost every part of the country. In the UK, large-scale public celebrations of Holi are taking place in Leicester, London, and Birmingham. Sadly, those in Swindon and Chelmsford have been cancelled this year due to Coronavirus fears.