A Festival of Colours
Holi is the Hindu festival of colours, one of the most joyful and exuberant festivals ever. It’s also one of the most famous non-European celebrations: it is spreading out of the Hindu community as many Westerners enjoy reconnecting with their inner child and celebrate the return of spring and the victory of good over evil.
The date of Holi varies year on year because it is linked to the Hindu lunar calendar. It is usually between mid-March and mid-April.
The Meaning of Holi
Holi is linked to several legends, but the celebrations follow essentially two.
Before the party, a bonfire ceremony recalls the story of the prince Prahlada, a faithful Vishnu follower who refused to worship his father as a living god. His sister Holika tried to kill him in a fire, but instead, she was killed herself, as a divine punishment.
The next day is the big party where everyone throws coloured powders (gulals) at, well, everyone else. This is a remembrance of the love story between the god Krishna and his lover Radha. Krishna was fearful that his blue skin would repulse Radha. There the accounts vary, but she loved him and they showed their love to each other by playfully colouring each other’s faces. Thus Holi is also an expression of love.
What About the Colours?
At Holi, people of all ages throw coloured powders, called gulals, at each other… whether they know them or not.
The colours? There is red symbolizing love, romance and fertility; blue for strength, life and good; yellow for knowledge, peace and happiness; green for nature and new beginnings.
But if you think you can be showered in gulals are simply blow or brush them away… think again: Soon after eager hands will have dug in the heaps of powders, the young ones will appear with their water guns. Long story short, you really should not wear your Sunday best for Holi (or even your Sunday second best…). Better to buy cheap white clothes (and underwear) for the day, never to wear again.
Is Holi Environmentally Friendly?
It used to be, but it’s hardly true any more. As population and popularity grow, the natural dyes gave way to artificial ones. Unfortunately, these are cheap but often toxic to the human body (potentially carcinogenic) and harmful to nature.
All is not dark in these times of colourful joy: it is now quite easy to find recipes to make your own dry and wet colours based on spices, plants, flours and vegetables.
As for the celebration itself, another way to keep it environmentally friendly is to keep it dry and avoid wasting water.
(photographs from holifestival.org)
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