Holi Festival

Holi is the celebration of the color of spring in Northern India, following the wheat harvest. It comes during the month of Phagun (February-March). People are in their gayest of spirits and celebrate Holi all day by throwing colored water and colored powders at each other. The colored water is squirted during the morning with a device called "pichkari " while the colored powders, called Gulal, are smeared on people in the evening. Sweets are distributed to children and relatives visit during Holi with exchange of sweets.

In the previous night, before the day of Holi, people in the neighborhood light bon fires, called Holikas, on the cross roads. It is often a community celebration and people do pujan (worship) of goddess Holika prior to lighting the bon fire.

Bon fires date back to the days of Hiranyakashipu, when he ordered his son Prahlad, a devotee of Lord Vishnu, to be burnt alive; because Hiranyakashipu hated Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu asked his sister Holika to wear the magic cloth that would not catch fire and hold Prahlad tightly on her lap so that he would die in the flames and she would not be hurt. Holika could not bear to kill the child. So she quietly transferred the magic clothes onto Prahlad and got burnt herself, thus saving Prahlad. Holika attained heaven for her pious act.

The ashes of the bone fire is streaked on the forehead of people to bring good luck in the year ahead. In front of the bon fire the neighborhood stars may have songs and dances for fun. Children roast green gram, potato and other things in the bon fire for their picnic. The bon fire may be left in its place for several days and then cleaned out.

The colorful festival of Holi is closely associated with Lord Krishna, who in his young age played and frolicked with his band of cowherds and maidens (the Gopis) of the village in the hamlets of Bridavan, Gokul and Barsana. Lord Krishna played Holi with so much gusto that even today the songs sung during Holi are full of the pranks that he played on the Gopis, especially his childhood sweet heart Radhika, who lived in Barsana.

Holi Festival
Krishna's romantic tales are also remembered during the time of Holi. Krishna grew up into a handsome young man, entrancing everyone with the magic of his flute which he used to call back lost cattle and cowherds alike. The milkmaids all fell hopelessly in love with him and realized that he was blessed by Vishnu.

"If only we could all be flutes" they thought longingly, "so that we could be constantly caressed by Krishna's lips."

Krishna knew their love for him and often teased them. One day as the young girls bathed in the river, Krishna stole their clothes and took them up into a nearby tree. When the girls looked around, they saw Krishna in the tree dressed in saffron robes, his head and neck covered with garlands and with the blue skin of Vishnu himself. The girls realized that he was indeed the embodiment of Vishnu and, ashamed of their nakedness, they crouched down into the water. However, Krishna spoke to them gently. "Clothes matter little in the other life," he said. "Your nakedness is merely a sign of your closeness to me. A child is not ashamed before its father nor a wife before her husband. So come one by one and take your clothes from me. While you are in this world, you need to cover yourselves for this is the world of material things where appearance and customs matter."

When they had dressed themselves again, Krishna promised each of the girls that he would dance with them on the night of the full moon. Overjoyed, they all returned home to their husbands.

From the philosophical point of view, love is divine. The playful frolics between Radha and Krishna and their eternal love, are remembered on the day of Holi by throwing colors between friends and relations. We all would like to share that divine love, even momentarily, during the day of the festivity, amidst the limitations of our earthly surround.