Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Holi celebrations across India

Holi, the festival of colors, is a popular spring festival observed in India, Nepal, some of the South East Asian countries, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad, the UK and many other parts of the world. During the celebrations people apply colors on each other, light bonfires, distribute sweets and other delicacies, perform prayers, and they sing, dance, dine and make Holi an enjoyable celebration.

Holi is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Phalugna (Falguna or Phalgun Purnima), in the late February or early March. It is a major festival in most of north India, while in other parts Holi is celebrated with slight variations.

As legends say, the bonfires are lit to celebrate the miraculous escape of young Prahlad, the son of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, who had ordered his sister Holika to carry Prahlad into the fire and burn him. But Holika was burnt and Prahlad, a devotee of Lord Vishnu was safe due to his devotion.

Another legend is regarding Kamadeva (Kama), the god of love. He shot his arrow of love and lust at Lord Shiva to help Parvati to marry Shiva. But then Shiva opened his third eye, the power of which burned Kama to ashes. But for the sake of Kama's wife Rati (passion), Shiva restored him as a mental image, representing true emotional and mental state of love rather than physical lust.

In Vrindavan and Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days to mark the divine love of Radha for Krishna. Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the neighborhood girls. Legend says, Krishna complained to his mother about his dark color and his consort Radha's fair color, when Krishna's mother applied color on Radha's face, and that is the basis for applying color on the occasion of Holi. The Holi is in spring, the celebrated season of love.

In Mathura, the birth place of Lord Krishna, this day is celebrated with special prayers. All over the Braj region and its nearby places like Hathras, Aligarh, Agra Holi is celebrated in more or less same way as in Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana.

Bengalis celebrate Holi as Dol Yatra or the swing festival where the idols of Krishna and Radha are placed on swings and women sing devotional songs, throw colors and perform dances as devotees take turns to swing the idols.

In Orissa people celebrate Holi in a similar manner but the idols of Lord Jagannath, the deity of the Jagannath Temple of Puri, replace the idols of Krishna and Radha.

Holi is celebrated with great fanfare in Gujarat with colors, singing and dancing. In Maharashtra, Holi is mainly associated with the burning of Holika and the fun of playing with colors.

In Manipur, in northeastern India, Holi is celebrated for six days. Introduced in the eighteenth century with Vaishnavism, it soon merged with the centuries old festival of Yaosang.

Civilians as well as the Indian security forces celebrate Holi in Jammu & Kashmir. Holi, the festival to mark the harvesting of the summer crop, is celebrated by the throwing of colored water and powder and singing and dancing.

In south India Holi is an outcome of the influence of the media, movies, marketing and migration. There are lots of people from north India living in different parts of southern Indian states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka and they celebrate Holi and the locals too join them in the celebrations.

The spring season may cause viral fever, cold, etc. due to climate changes. So applying natural colors has a medicinal significance. The colors used for Holi celebrations are traditionally made from medicinal plants like Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva and other medicinal herbs. And such colors can cure seasonal ailments. But commercialization of the celebration brought in artificial colors, which can contain toxic chemicals, and these are to be avoided.

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