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This is one of the most popular and colourful festival celebrated in India. The underlying thought is that on this day let us forget all our distinction of caste, creed, colour and even economic standards and all should merge themselves in the unique stream of empathy and solidarity. Hence it is marked by gaiety and real gay abandon.

When is Holi celebrated :
It comes when the cold winter months give way to summer. The crops have been cut, threshed and stored or sold away. The farmer and his wife are free and money is in hand. This most joyous festival falls on the full moon day during the month of Phalguna, sometimes late March (or even beginning depending upon the lunar calendar) which is quite conducive to getting out and about. It is seasonally the time when bodily humours change most markedly ?particularly the phlegm ?thawing with the onset of summers. Hence physiologically people in India, particularly in the north, crave for more sensuous and sensual pleasures with both sexes longing to mate.


Although all the major gods are also described to celebrate it with great fervour, Holi is generally associated with Lord Krishna, who in his childhood and adolescence ran around with his band of cow-herds and maidens of the village, compelling and captivating everyone to join in the revellery. He loved festivity like everybody of his age is expected to love. During this period starting at least a fortnight ahead of the festival, in the hamlets of Gokul, Brindavan, Barsana, besides in the city of Mathura people go almost berserk. Lord Krishna played Holi with so much gusto that even to-day the songs sung during this period are full of pranks that he played on the Gopis (cow-maidens) and they on him.

Especially his colourful 'leela'- with his childhood beloved Radha have been described with such high quality music and literature that these songs have become a treasure of our heritage. It is believed to be the special festival of the region called Braj, stretching to about 80 miles radius with the centre at Mathura.

In Braj area, although the boys and girls start their colourful pranks right since the festival of Vasant Panchami, the traditional celebration start about a week before the Day (called Dhulendi)�the First Day of the Bright Fortnight of Chaitra ?on the eleventh lunar day called Rangbharini Ekadashi. On this day, people regularly start making preparations to celebrate the great day. They sort out what is useless for them and dump those things on a particular spot close to their houses. This dump of the old and useless things is called Holi.

A legend attached to Festival Holi.

There was a demon lord named Hiranyakashyapu who deemed himself as the Lord of the Creation and a rival to Lord Vishnu. He had asked his people worship not any other god but his own image.

But, ironically, his own son, Prahlad, developed great reverence for Lord Vishnu and despite Hiranyakashyapu's best efforts did not cease to worship Vishnu. At last, sorely peeved, Hiranyakashyapu decided to kill his own son. He asked his demons to lay a trap for his son's death. But though he was thrown from the hilt-top, kept bound before the poisonous snakes, the boy couldn't be eliminated. At last, the demon lord's sister, named Holika assured his brother that she would kill her nephew. Holika had received a boon than she couldn't be burnt by fire. So at one night she took her nephew Prahlad on her lap and sat on the pile of firewood. As she did, the demon-lord's henchmen set it ablaze. But they found, to their utter amazement, Holika incinerated but Prahlad surviving unscathed !
Symbolically, burning a pile of useless objects, lumber, scrap items etc. means getting rid of all the impieties and wasted things that one might have accumulated over the year. Included among them, symbolically, are also the vile sentiments like hatred, jealousy and animosity. Since the festival of Holi is celebrated only a fortnight ahead of the end of the financial year by the ancient Indian calendar, some of these customary practices also hint at finally settling the account.

This 'Holi' is set ablaze at a precise 'Muhurta' on the eve of the actual Holi-day called Dhulendi. People gather around it singing and dancing in joy on the beat of the Dhols and Nagaras. This kind of bonfire is made almost in the middle of night. Since nights are still cold, at this time no coloured water is sprinkled on one another but playing 'Holi' with dry powder like Gulal and Abeer is permitted. When the fire is set ablaze with flames leaping high, roasting coconuts thrust into the pointed lances and green grams with the help of bamboo sticks is deemed very auspicious. When fire is almost doused people circumambulate it singing most vulgar compositions of Holi. In North, India it is believed that exactly on the junction of the two tithis ?Poornima (full moon day) and Pratipada (first day of the bright fortnight) mouthing obscurities sets in a process of catharsis clearing all accumulated complaints and rancours. After making this kind of bonefire, people return their home. If this time of burning Holi is close to the sun rise in some cities like Varanasi, the celebration of the Holi festival also starts immediately after Holi is burnt and fire is worshipped.

In certain regions in North India, newly married brides are asked to go round this fire and worship the fire god to grant them abundant fertility and eternal felicity in the company of their husbands. In the region of Braj, infants are formally brought close to the burning fire with the hope that 'Holika Mata' would grant them long and prosperous life. If the ground at which this fire is burnt is close to a temple, people go these singing Holis describing amourous dalliance of Lord Krishna with his spouses. Then people also go to their farms and worship their land.hloi

Then returning home, if the sun-rise be still far away people take a nap. Getting up at the day break they select their old-torn but still wearable clothes which are to be rejected by the end of that day. Having made themselves ready for celebrating the final day of Holi, after breakfast the boys go to test their 'Pichkari' (a kind of small water pump) and prepare the colourful water for playing Holi. Although now a variety of chemicals are used to colour this water, traditionally people still prefer the 'Tesu' flower which blooms in abundance at this time. Tesu is the tree, blooming big petalled flowers, also called 'Flame of the forest'. These flowers have such bright colour that during this time of the year their blooming in thousands gives the impression as if the whole jungle has been set on fire. These flowers are soaked overnight in huge vessels or tanks and in the morning they are strained by means of huge thin cloth sheets. In order to impart more brightness to the colour of the water, a little of unsoaked raw lime is added.

This addition makes the colour of the water bright saffron and very soothing to the eyes. This flowered concoction is said to be very good for human skin and if soaked over the skin for long, the skin acquires a charming 'tan-colour.' When the colour is ready, it is filled in various buckets and pails and placed strategically in the courtyards, verandah, or even on the roof tops.

The dry red colour 'gulal' should also be chosen now with great care since, now-a-days, there is a lot of spurious stuff mixed with it, which can be very injurious to the skin, lungs and eyes.

In many regions of our country, the festival of Holi begins on Dwadashi, three days earlier to Puno or Poornima ?i.e. 12th day of the waxing moon of Phalgun. The children may have started festivities even earlier, with everyone shouting at them not to get wet and fall sick ! They are seen running amok on roads and roof-tops with syringes filled with coloured water threatening to ruin the dress of every passerby. To certain extent every prank is taken in one's stride and tolerated gamefully and cheerfully. Nothing which can injure or hurt, or throwing colour or balloons on people going to their places of work, is to be tolerated with laxity and smile are well writ on the people's faces wearing a feigned angry expressions.

In some western regions of India like Rajasthan and Gujarat, Holi is also a festival when new clothes are made for a married daughter and her children. There is a special 'sari' made for the daughter known as 'Dandia ' which is a must for a married girl. Following Puno (the full moon day) dawns the Parva, which is the real 'Holi-day*. From morning onwards, people gather and play Holi. They visit each other's houses, carrying gulal and coloured water. In the villages, a procession of the people carrying Dhol, Jhanjh and Manjeera (Drums and cymbals) starts usually from the Chaupal or Temple and it visits turn by turn every house. While throwing coloured water, singing ecstatically, eating sweets and salty preparation with the strong doses of Bhang preparations. Starting by ten-o-clock they have their revelry till the evening when they finally return to the place the 'Holi' was burnt at and put a mark of the ash on their forehead. Then they return home to mark the end of 'Parva' celebrations.

During these days sweet homemade cakes called Goojhas (Gujhia) are especially prepared and offered to every guest. Apart from it 'papri', 'samosa', 'kachauris', kanji ke bare' etc. are prepared besides a lot of sweets. This is the time when all checks and balances are temporarily removed to encourage the process of catharisis.

There is no particular puja associated with Holi except putting a little colour on the faces of the gods, at the beginning of the festival.

Evenings and even late nights are reserved during this fortnight for music and poetry. Although every 'raga' can be sung on this day, the traditional school prefers singing Kafi raag and other raagas like 'pilu' of this very 'Thaat' (combination of notes). Given below is one popular song composed in Raaga Kafi and set to Tal Deepchandi.

A Holi Song

Horee-ho ! Braj-Raja dulare !
holi banner
Bahuta dinan sen turn Manmohan, 'Phaga hee Phaga' pukare !

Aaju dekhiyo sair phaga kee pichakarin ke phuhare,

Chalen bahu kumum nyare !!

Horee-ho ! Braj-Raja dulare !

Ab kyon jahi Chhipe Jananee dhinga, O dwe bapan vare

Kei tau nakasi ken horee khelahu kei mukh son kahan hare

Jor kar agen hamhare !!

Nipata aneeti uthayee hai Mohan, rokat gail galare

'Narayan' tab jani pare gau, aa voge dwaren hamhare

Sang liyen gwal sakha re ! Horee-ho, Braj Raja dulare !

(The Gopees say) : "O Darling of Braja !
The day of Holi has dawned !
For long you have been going frenzic for sprinkling colours on others. Now, Manmohan !
The day has come !
Today you would see this festival celebrated with full fanfare with streams of the coloured water and kumkuma filled with Abeer filling the sky !
Hey Why are you taking shelter behind your mother, O son having two fathers !
[Both Nanda, the foster-father; and Vasudeva, the real father]. Now either you come out in the open to play 'Phag ' with us or accept your defeat hand bound, before us. You, Mohan and your high handed manners !
Colouring everyone in the streets and alleys !
Now we dare you ?says Narayan ?come at our gate with your friends and show your pranks ?O beloved of Braja !

Holi for the people is a festival of joy revelery and of abandonment of all taboos and restrictions; to forget the innumerable obligations that weigh us down and breathe the air of freedom.