Colour me tradition! Evolution of Holi from the folklores to the modern day



Holi is one of the most ancient festivals of India; a day when everyone comes to celebrate togetherness with lots of colours. It is a festival that goes beyond any societal norms and boundaries. It is generally identified as the’ festival of colours’. But this beautiful festival has a history that goes much deeper. This festival signifies the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’. It also marks the arrival of spring after the gloomy winters. Just like every other festival in India, Holi has a very intriguing history. There was an elaborate reason and significance for its celebration. Yet over the years, the celebration of Holi has evolved drastically. The people, the environments, the time and the way of celebrations: all these things have evolved through the years.

According to Indian mythology, this is celebrated to commemorate Hirananyakashyap’s defeat over Prahlad. Legend has it, Hiranyakashyap was the king of demons who wanted to be the supreme authority and power. Yet, his son Prahlad worshiped Lord Vishnu instead. This enraged him and he ordered his sister Holika to sit in a burning pyre with Prahlad in his lap because Holika had a boon protecting her from fire. But when Holika sat in the fire with Prahlad in her lap, she got burnt instead of Prahlad who was saved. This signified the victory of good over evil.

The colours were incorporated into the festival much later. This is because of the folklore of the Lord Krishna in Mathura. According to the beliefs, Lord Krishna was dark skinned and his companion Radha was fair. He always wondered why that was. His mother, Yashoda, suggested that he could smear colour on her face to change the skin tone. Fascinated by the idea, Krishna went ahead and did that and hence the colours were added to the festival.

For several years to come Holi was celebrated in Vrindavan as a very elaborate and important festival. It was celebrated for sixteen days! People rejoiced the end of winters with colours and excitement in the air. The Holi colours were made of Kumkum, Neem, Turmeric, Bilva and other medicinal herbs in the ancient times. Very soon the festival spread to all regions of the country like wildfire. It was celebrated for five days in the other regions of the country. The beginning of the festival was marked by ‘Holika’ and the end of the festival was called ‘Rangpanchaimi’.

In the modern times, the festival is celebrated only for two days. The eve of Holi is called ‘Holika Dahan’ and large pyres of wood are burnt in the evening with the ritual of moving around it to burn out the devils and the bad spirits. It is also believed to bring joy and prosperity to our households. The next day is the main day of Holi. This day begins with lots of fervour and happiness; everyone at the height of their spirits. Delicious meals and drinks prepared in the houses of people perfume the air. Soon the air gets smeared with all different colours; bright and vivid.

Yet with modern day, technology has gotten into the festival. It has been commercialized to quite an extent. Now the arrival of Holi also brings thousands of vendors selling different varieties of colours.  Nowadays it is celebrated with synthetic colours and dyes which are potentially harmful for our skin and health. Some of the colours which are termed as permanent colours (such as silver) are the most harmful ones. Liquid colours have also been brought in which re mixed with water to produce brilliant dyes. Also, this Holi is now associated with liquor options such as bhaang. It also includes fast music, fast food and influence from other cultures of the world. Evidently, it has changed to quite an extent.

Yet through all these years, what essentially remains intact is the enthusiasm and happiness that the festival brings. From red to indigo, this festival colours the Earth in a different feeling altogether! So keep all your hard feelings and perils at bay, and celebrate this festival with an open heart!

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