Holi, the celebration of colours in India

Every year, Holi is celebrated throughout India, from North to South, as well as by Indian communities abroad. This Hindu religious holiday, which marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, is celebrated during the full moon of the month of Ph├ólguna (February-March). On Holi’s day, everyone throws coloured powders and water at each other. In 2019, Holi will take place on March 20 and 21. A profusion of colours is to be expected!

The origin of the celebration

Like many celebrations in India, Holi has its roots in Hindu mythology. Legend has it that King Hiranyakashipu reigned as a despot, causing trouble around him. Proud and arrogant, he demanded that everyone bow down at his feet. Unfortunately for him, his own son Prahlad preferred the god Vishnull to him.

Hiranyakashipu then wanted to get rid of his son. He tried several times to kill him but in vain. He then asked his sister Holika for help, who had a special gift for not being afraid of fire. The king challenged his son to lie in the flames with his aunt. Prahlad accepted and triumphed. Holika was punished for her vanity while Prahlad was saved and rewarded by the gods for her loyalty and devotion. It is from this story that Holi was born, symbol of the victory of good over evil, fertility and the arrival of spring.

Spray yourself with colours

Several days before Holi, the Indians began to collect wood to light the great fire, Holika said. On the eve of the festival, huge bonfires are lit in every city in India. These fires, which celebrate the cremation of Holika, sister of King Hiranyakashipu, symbolize the destruction of evil. The embers are then recovered by the residents who take them home and use them to start a new fire.

The day of festivities is called Dhuletti. It is at this moment that the festival of colours takes on its full meaning. During the previous days, everyone was supplied with chromatic ammunition – balloons filled with coloured water and a tinted powder called gulal. On D-Day, you have to be ready to spray your friends, family or complete strangers you meet on the street.

Expect to be covered with colours, as tourists are a target. Be careful what you wear, because the mixture of powder and water gives a kind of indelible mud. It’s hard to untie your clothes after Holi! You have been warned…

The colours used each have a particular meaning: green represents harmony, orange optimism, blue vitality and red joy and love. After spraying his victim with paint, it is customary to exclaim “Bura Na Mano, Holi Hai ! “Don’t be angry, it’s the Holi”. The day is a festive one: everyone has fun, sings and dances to the sounds of Bollywood. It is also the opportunity to taste delicious dishes specially prepared for Holi and to swallow a few sips of thanda├», a mixture of ice milk, almonds, spices and cannabis!

In the evening, when the calm has returned, the inhabitants visit their relatives and friends. This is a good time to exchange wishes and gifts. The families then share a hearty meal and stay up until late at night. In some parts of India, Holi celebrations continue for a week.

A celebration with many virtues

From north to south India, – and even in Indian communities abroad, such as in Nepal, Mauritius or even Rotterdam – Hindus and non-Hindus meet to celebrate Holi. This celebration has a symbolic dimension since for a few days social barriers fall, and men and women are equal.

The festival of colours brings together all the social castes. Holi has a strong unifying spirit: the arrival of spring is an opportunity to forgive his enemies and to show his love to his family and friends.

Holi is also appreciated for its “medical” virtues. Indeed, the Indians, supported by the theories of biologists, believe in the purifying action of the colouring used in painting, which, once spread over the body, penetrates into the pores. Contact between the colouring and the pores would strengthen the body’s natural defences and beautify it.

Holi is also the occasion for a great spring cleaning. Houses are cleaned, dust swept away and bacteria eradicated. Long live life in colour!

India: Ahmedabad, in the colours of Gujarat
Three days in Delhi