Spring shares a close relationship with colors. You know spring has arrived in India when roadside trees burst into bright hues of the flame-of-the-forest. You know spring is here when the grey colors of winter give way to the golden colors of sunshine. You know spring has sprung when the Holi festival, with its uninhibited splash of colors and joy, is celebrated throughout the country.
People who experience the Holi festival for the first time may find it thrilling and maybe even overwhelming. Unlimited water fights, color attacks that leave you pink and blue for days, balloons filled with colored water dropped on your head, spray guns, exciting bonfires, music, dance, great food and feverish levels of fun define Holi, but only to an extent. Holi festival is also a time for family and friends, prayers and making up over rifts.
This year’s Holi festival was celebrated on March 17th and the effect of color attacks still linger in many areas. There are several legends behind Holi; the most popular among which involves Lord Krishna, who because of his dark complexion, smeared fair-skinned Radha with colored powder to tease her. Since then, Holi festival has been celebrated as a display of love. Holi is usually celebrated on the last full moon day of the lunar month, signifying the end of winter.
While people all over India celebrate the festival, the levels of excitement and style of celebration differs from place to place. The Braj region, where Lord Krishna is said to have lived, is known for its week-long Holi celebrations and is a favorite with tourists. In Gujarat, Holi festival is celebrated with a popular game where a pot of buttermilk is hung high and young men try to break open the pot by forming a human pyramid. To prevent them from doing so, young women pour colored water on the men to make the pyramid slippery.
The Sujanpur Holi in Himachal Pradesh is a gala of colors with lively music and dance performances where the royal family mingles with the people to celebrate the festival of colors. In West Bengal, bonfires are lit and procession of Radha and Krishna idols are taken around the town by young men dressed entirely in white. Their white clothes get completely colored by the end of the day. A grand fair called Ganga Mela is held along the banks of the river Ganga in Kanpur; this combines a spirit of patriotism with Holi celebrations since it was started by freedom fighters in India.
The festival is popular in South India too, though it’s called by a different name, Rangapanchami, in certain places. The colors don’t stop at the street; they also have a strong presence at the dining table. Revelers drown their worries in mugs full of Bhaang, an intoxicating drink and then go on to enjoy dishes like Gujjiyas, thandai, malpua and papri. Don‘t be surprised if, after all this heady fun, people you know start adopting a “holier than thou” attitude; for after all, it’s Holi.