Holi: The Festival of Colors

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Holi revellers celebrating in The Hague, Netherlands in 2008Photo:
Image: FaceMePls

What do you get if you mix millions of South Asians around the world, tons of powdered colors and many liters of water? Right – Holi, the Festival of Colors! This spring festival is celebrated on the first full moon in March, so this year, Holi falls today on March 11. Though it’s not the same as being in India and celebrating with everyone, see the Holi madness in pictures.

Many communities in India organise Holi bonfires like this one:
Holi bonfire in IndiaPhoto:
Image: Ronaldo Lazzari

Holi or rang panchami actually starts the night before the full-moon, called phalgun purnima, with the burning of effigies of the evil demoness Holika. According to legend, while being protected by a magic shawl herself, Holika told her brother Prahlad – on orders of her father Hiranyakashipu, the evil demon king – to sit on a pyre with her. Prahlad, a devotee of Vishnu, obeyed but all the while praying to the god. Magically, Holika’s shawl flew to him and protected him from the flames while Holika burned to death.

Like many Hindu festivals, Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil. The day after the reminder of this violent mythological incident, called dhulheti, is therefore all fun and games. Children and adults alike enjoy splashing each other with water and throwing colors on each other while shouting “Holi hai!” (It is Holi!), an absolution from any crazy acts one might engage in later.

A Holi party at a scenic location in Delhi:
Holi party in DelhiPhoto:
Image: Karen Sandhu

Needless to say, not all Holi revellers are simply high on life. Some are aided by spiking a popular milk-based drink called thandai with bhang, the leaf and flower of the female cannabis sativa plant.

A “government-authorised” bhang-shop in India:
Bhang shop in IndiaPhoto:
Image: Tom Maisey

Weeks before Holi, shops stock up on water guns of all sizes, and powdered colors called gulal are sold on every street corner. The colors used to be made from plants like neem, haldi, kumkum and bael, thus preserving their medicinal qualities, which started the tradition of Holi in the first place. People used to throw Ayurvedic powders on each other as protection from viral fever and colds during the change from winter to spring.

A gulal-seller at a street corner in Delhi:Gulal-seller in DelhiPhoto:
Image: Tony

Today, synthetic and potentially harmful colors prevail because they are cheaper and easier to obtain than natural colours, which often have to be made at home. All vibrant colors like pink and purple are chemically produced and should be avoided as they can cause irritation, skin allergies, respiratory problems and even cause damage to vital organs.

Still, together with Diwali, Holi is the most eagerly awaited festival in the Hindu calendar. As the festival where social norms are forgotten for two days, it is popular with young and old, rich and poor alike.

For a choreographed version of Holi, watch the dance video to “Let’s Play Holi” from the Bollywood movie Waqt with Priyanka Chopra and Akshay Kumar:

Source: 1, 2

We’ll even throw in a free album.

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