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What is Holi and why is Holi celebrated in India

Holi is a popular Indian festival that marks the arrival of spring, celebrates love, colour and life

Rang Panchami in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, Dhuleti in Gujarat, Yaosang in Manipur, Dol Jatra or Basant Utsav in Bengal, Phakuwah or Phaguwa in Bihar and Assam, Shigmo in Goa, Hola Mohalla in Punjab, Manjal Kuli in Kerala: celebrations might assume various name across the diverse Indian landscape, but they all come under one colourful umbrella: Holi in India.

 Holi in Indian culture...

... occupies an enviable place and as the nation braces itself to revel in the festivity, we attempt to delve deeper into its origin.                                                             

What is Holi?

A major Indian festival, Holi is a springtime celebration and is also popularly known as India's festival of colours, festival of love and also festival of spring. The festival of Holi is mentioned in numerous ancient Indian scriptures and the rituals for celebrating them are rooted in ayurvedic practices.

Why is Holi celebrated in India?

The story of Holika and Prahlad

As per the Bhagvat Puran, Hiranyakashyap who was a demon king had a special boon from 'Shristi-karta' Brahamadev. The unusual blessing protected him from being killed by any of the life created by Brahma on Earth; it shielded him from being slain at day or night, no weapons could cause his death, nor could he be assassinated inside or outside his residence - either in the air or on the ground.

Emboldened by such a boon, he was convinced of his immortality  and commanded that he be worshipped as God himself. His own son, Prahalad, however, was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu and never followed his father’s diktat. Hiranyakashyap used all his power to frighten and subdue the little boy, but young Prahalad was not to succumb. His faith was unshakeable and he continued his tapasya (penance). Having failed in all his attempts, Hiranyakashyap approached his sister, Holika, who was immune to fire to sit on a lit pyre, with Prahalad on her lap. She was to escape unhurt and prahalad was to be burnt alive. But the fire turned Holika into ashes and Prahalad escaped unscathed. This incident is celebrated for the victory of good over evil, of dharma over adharma.

The Radha Krishna Holi story

The origin of Holi is intertwined also, with the eternal love of Lord Krishna and his Radha Rani. Krishna used to often ask his mother why his colour is different from Radha Rani’s (who was fair complexioned). One day, Yashoda Maiyya, in a lighter vein, suggested that his son smear himself and Radha Rani’s face with the same colour to end the dissimilarity. Krishana liked the idea and so began the festival of Holi! 

The Shiva and Kamdev Holi story

As per the sacred Purans, once when Lord Shiva was immersed in meditation,  a distressed Kamdev (God of Love) wished to seek his attention to prevent the destruction unleashed by a demon, who could only be defeated by a child born from the union of Mahadev and Devi Parvati. Shiva’s meditation had to be disturbed and only Kamdev could do so. Thus woken, Shiva’s third eye opened and instantly turned Kamdev into ashes, leaving his wife, Rati distraught. Rati began a severe penance and on the fortieth day, Shiva forgave Kamdev and restored him to life reuniting the couple of Kamadev and Rati. Kamdev now was without body which signified that love must transcend the body and reach the mind and heart. Kamdev, the God of Love, danced with joy and the day is celebrated as Holi!

How Holi is celebrated? 

Rubbing colour on one another and dancing to music is the biggest charm of the festival. Another important aspect of Holi celebration is the lighting of theThandai bonfire, or burning an effigy of Holika. It represents the burning of evil in society, both within and without. Cow dung cakes and sacred substances are offered to this fire. No Indian festival is complete without the consumption of delicacies.  Sweet and savoury dishes are made and offered to deities. Laddoo, gujiya, puranpoli and firni to name a few sweets and of course some thandai to keep cool! 

Holi celebration across India

The celebration of Holi in India though is one of its kind, each region has its unique culture and their own traditions of celebrating it. It is known as Rang Panchami in the state of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh where pyres are lit to signify the victory of virtuous forces over the evil (remembering the end of Holika when she tried to kill Prahlad). Uttar Pradesh has an unusual celebration known as Lathmar Holi where two ' rivals' clash: the womenfolk attacks with sticks and canes and the menfolk defends themselves while trying to immerse the other in colour. Songs and chants devoted to Radha Krishna are sung gaily.  In Punjab, it is called 'Holla Mohalla' where tribute is paid to the brave warriors of the land. The folk songs and dances take prominence in 'Shigmo' celebrated in Goa and as a part of the rituals in this costal region, fishermen decorate their boats to mark the occasion. Holi in Rajasthan is a royal affair and the tradition is kept alive by the Royal family of Mewar.  Kumoni Holi in Uttarakhand is celebrated more with music and dance than with colours and lasts around two months. In Kerala, it is Manjal Kuli and the celebration is usually restricted to temples and prayers followed by festivities. 

The ancient Indian festival of Holi is celebrated even in Nepal and by the Indian diaspora across the world. It is a happy festival that celebrates spring, life and love and also reminds us that a devotee on the side of dharma will always find Ishwar (God) by his side; just like young Prahalad did.

Happy Holi to All! ॐ

On a lighter note, here are some Bollywood songs on Holi with their meanings explained:- 

32 names of goddess Durga with meanings

Learn: the thirty-two names of Mother Durgā and their meanings

The Thirty-two names of Mother Durgā


Deepawali diwali diya in flower rangoli

Deepawali or Diwali?

It is that time of the year again 🪔

The air is filled with the vibrant spirit of Deepawali. …

by Aarti Pathak