Holi – A Celebration of Spring and Color in India

Holi is celebrated every year on the night of the full moon that comes in late February or early March and also on the day after the full moon. This year it will be celebrated on March 15-16th.

Holi is a celebration of the beginning of spring and the first harvest of the year.

The Origin of Holi

There are different legends behind the origin of Holi. The most well-known is about the triumph of good over evil.

The story is that in ancient India there was an evil demon king called Hiranykashipu, who wanted everyone to worship him instead of the supreme Hindu god Vishnu. He declared that no one was to worship Vishnu and that if they did, they would be killed. However, the demon king’s son, Prince Prahlad, continued to worship Vishnu. The demon king warned him that if he did not stop he would be killed, but Prahlad continued anyway. The demon king tried to kill him but failed. He tried poisoning him and he tried to have him trampled by elephants, but his son survived. Finally the demon king asked his sister Holika for help. Holika thought she was immune to fire so she took her nephew Prahlad into a big fire. Much to everyone’s surprise, Holika was burnt to death and Prahlad was unharmed.

The name of the holiday Holi comes from the defeat of Holika.

Nowadays, huge bonfires are lit on the night of the full moon of Holi. The fires are supposed to burn away the evil spirits. The bonfires also symbolize the coming warmth of Springtime.

Spraying Village Girls with Colored Powder and Water

To understand the next part of Holi’s traditions, it’s important to know a little about Hindu avatars. In Hinduism avatars are earthly manifestations or reincarnations of the God Vishnu. Krishna is one of the avatars of Vishnu.

Krishna literally means “dark” or “black”. He is called “the dark one” because of his dark complexion. He is also known to be a prankster.

The legend is that Krishna would spray the village girls with colored powder and water. At first they were annoyed at him, but they liked him so much that eventually it became a game and all the boys of the town joined in.

Today in India on Holi you’ll see colored powder in the air. Sometimes it’s mixed with water and everything turns into a rainbow of color.

Krishna and Radha

Many of the village girls were called Gopis which are cowherd girls. Krishna fell in love with one of the Gopis whose name was Radha.

One day Krishna asked his mother why he had such dark skin while Radha was so fair. His mother said to him, why don’t you smear her with color so that she can be any color you want. So he did!

People in India still smear each other with color on Holi. There’s an element of courtship behind this ritual echoing the love between Krishna and Radha. Thus, Holi is also a celebration of the love that comes in the springtime.

Picture of Holi

Holi is a great festival of color in which there is much dancing, singing and rejoicing. What a happy time it is when spring is in the air!

Happy Holi!


Many thanks to G.Kavitha for helping me learn about the tradition of Holi in India.

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This article was posted on Saturday, March 11th, 2006 at 10:47 pm and is filed under Countries & Cultures, Hindi, Hinduism, Holi, Holidays Around the World, India, Languages. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “Holi – A Celebration of Spring and Color in India”

  1. ruth Says:

    thank you

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