Holi, after Diwali is one of the most important festivals in India, characterized by its festive atmosphere. Holi, the spring festival, also known as the festival of colors, Basanta Utsav and the feast of love is one of the oldest celebrations in India. Holi is dedicated to Krishna in northern India and Kama in the south. On the occasion of Holi, people make offerings to the ashoka tree, whose red flowers are the symbol of the love of Kama Deva.
The event is so ancient that historians have difficulty in finding the exact origin of this festival. In front of this it is necessary to recover the meaning of this celebration, the most atypical of our times, and that has no religious nor civil significance, but that has its roots in the tradition of the most ancient European populations.
Holi is the most popular Indian carnival that has the most archaic origin, where people celebrate the arrival of spring with the festival of colours and currently is mainly celebrated on the second day with water balloon battles and shots of colored powders and water after consuming alcohol and other intoxicating drinks like bhang. The second important festival of the spring, is celebrated in the days preceding the second full moon of the year.
Holi is, in fact, one of those kind of Dionysian celebrations in which people have a way of subverting the social order for a short time and to vent the primal instincts. In a repressed, deeply patriarchal society like India Holi makes a ticking time bomb, but retains in family celebrations its positive and joyful aspects. Holi is the occasion in which adults and children can splash paints and colored powders called gulal, with songs and dances.
This article intends to deepen the meaning and origin of this festival, which is commonly presented as the celebration of the win of good over evil, an explanation usually revived for all ancient Indian traditional festivals. We must refer to his name to know what are the true origin and meaning of this festival, which annually changes date and is fixed on the last day of clear fortnight of the lunar month of phagun or phalguna and the first month of chaitra, between February and March.
Probably the term holi is attributable to holaka in sanskrit, a semimature legume cooked on the fire or Hola in prakrit, a green pea, or parched corn thrown in the sacred fire. In fact, few know that Holi is primarily a festival of fire, with characteristics similar to many others that are found in the ancient civilizations of the world, to name a few are the popular version of the Epiphany and the Celtic Beltane and the feast of new year, the propitiation for the health and renewal of the crop and then a fertility festival.
In ancient Rome, we have examples of pre-carnival celebrations that took place in the period from the winter solstice to the spring equinox. On February, took place the Lupercalia, dedicated to fertility and fecundity of women, which the Christian liturgy assigned to the cult of St. Valentine's Day. The celebration of Holi have origins in ancient festivals, such as the Dionysian Greek of the Anthesteria or Saturnalia the Romans.
During the Saturnalia and Dionysian festivals there was a temporary dissolution from social obligations and hierarchies to make way for the subversion. From the historical and religious point of view Holi therefore represented a period of party but mostly of symbolic renewal, during which the chaos replaced the established order. In the ancient world, the festival involved the presence of masked groups.
This period meant living with an unbridled freedom and a social order and overturning morales. The ceremonies spread among the Indo-European, Mesopotamian, as well as of other civilizations. They have therefore also a purifying value and show the profound need to regenerate periodically. The orgy is also a regression in dark, a restoration of the primordial chaos; as such, it precedes all creation, all manifestations of organized forms.
The suspension of all standards, violation of all prohibitions, the coincidence of all opposites, has no other aim than to the dissolution of the the community and to the restoration of primordial mythical moment of the principle chaos. From the vedic era, Holi sustained a series of repressive attacks by the moralizing of the time. Nevertheless, this anniversary continued to create new forms of celebration, as the fighting between different classes of citizens between districts and neighborhoods of the same city, that we find today in the battle of the oranges or tomatoes.
The conclusion was violent and tragic, enclosed in the carnival of simulacrum stake itself, a custom dating back to the rites of peasant origin, well-wishes for the fruitfulness of land, where the fire was the passage from death to life. The ash obtained by means of the fire were then buried as sacred fertile fertilizer for the land. This custom was then in the vedic era given the shape of Holika Dahan and religious meanings were attached to a pure celebration of nature.
In other places the fire was replaced by a trial, sentencing, death and funeral of the carnival puppet who represented both at the same time the ruler of a desirable world of plenty, and the scapegoat for the ills of the past year. The violent end of the puppet put an end to the period of unbridled celebration and was a wish for the new year. Custom that is the real human immolation mirror before, animal then donated to Mother Earth to be able to receive the fruits of the upcoming spring.
Another explanation is that the change from winter to spring seasons brings unconcern and a propensity for fun. This is reflected in celebrations celebrated more than two thousand years ago in Rome, such as the Hilaria, a Roman festival of rejoicing that took place around 25 March as well as the Jewish festival of Purim, where happy parties took place in the vicinity of the beginning of April. The April Fool's Day was also a day to play pranks and have fun at the expense of disbelief of others.
In the various events it is possible to identify a common denominator of the propitiation of fertility and renewal, particularly land, through the exorcism of death. The close relationship between these parties and some of the carnival costumes is obvious, though ignored by most.
The feast of Kupala is still enthusiastically celebrated by the young people of Eastern Europe. The night before the festival (Tvorila) is considered the night of humor jokes. On the day of Kupala, the boys play with water and throw water on people on the street.
On Dyngus day, the day after Easter or Ostara in Poland, people they throw water balloons to family members and passersby, even strangers. Throwing water reminds pagan practices and symbolizes the awakening of nature to life and the continued ability to maintain the great cycle of the earth. Even today, in the southern regions of Poland the peasants throw the holy water on the fields, to ensure the fertility of the land and the richness of the harvest.
Over the centuries, in Poland, in the individual geographic regions, they have adapted the type folkloric rituals to celebrate the arrival of spring. Poland has a rich culinary tradition. The traditional table can not miss dishes like soup called zurek roasted white sausage, ham, stuffed eggs, beets, the cake called babka wielkanocna, mazurka, a refined sweet prepared with almond, jam and dry fruit, cheesecake. The celebration in Poland remain the festival of triumph of good over evil, the celebration of rebirth, wishing each other Felice Pasqua and Bon Appetit by sharing a blessed egg, referring to the centuries-old tradition.
So Holi is the remnants of ancient spring rites, in which melt and are recognizable elements linked to the spring solstice (Ostara) and May Day (Beltane) with its maypole, the wildness, the joy, fertility symbols, the puppet bonfire, masks, dances, jokes and the selection of the most beautiful masks, a king and a queen of the festival.
Holi was an adaptation of the ancient pagan customs characterized by the achievement of a state of intoxication and enthusiastic exaltation, that resulted in veritable orgies. But the origins lie further back in ancient rites related to the relationship between man and the earth, in the period in which the works of the earth suffered a crash and social life intensified.
The first manifestations of the carnival in the world date back to certain rural rituals of antiquity, 10,000 years ago, when men and women used to paint their face and body, drifting from the dance and festivities. The use of the colours was linked to the belief that laughter, although not real, move away evil spirits and with their faces covered, were no longer tied to their humanity, and could indulge in acts and usually unusual or poorly tolerated behaviors.
The fact of disguising themselves, to paint the face and to celebrate it is an act that goes back to the antiquity and there is some evidence that the Sumerian people already realized this type of fests 5,000 years ago.
The surrender to extreme sexual license could be restored to its ancient rites that involved the union of bodies on the bare ground in homage to Mother Earth, rituals rooted especially among the Celts peoples. In the festival of Holi, we find fertility rites, parades of floats, erotic and burlesque moments, with the presence of the masks. We can therefore conclude, noting the fact that the festivals, taking place on the last month of winter was the feast to renew and revive life and spirit, when nature will return to bloom with the spring.
The period celebrating love is as old and has its roots in the days when the ceremonies of the miracle of spring shifted to female fertility and were originally dedicated to Pan, the shepherd god, with whom the vedic deity Krishna has similarities.
You may also remember the excesses that occurred in certain archaic celebrations of vegetation, for example in Floralia, when naked young people marched through the streets, or in the Lupercalia, when young people fertilised women, or in Holi, when everything was permissible. In earlier times, it was the married women who were responsible for celebrating Holi. They worshiped the deity of the full moon.
Earlier, Holi was celebrated on the last day of the year and the new year announced the spring from the next day as the people started counting the first day following the new moon to mark the festivals, but in the past, they followed the first day following the full moon, that was very much in vogue. It was thus that the feast of Holi had gradually become an occasion for rejoicing which foreshadowed the advent of the spring season.
The magical value of obscene insults is well known and appreciated even in evolved cults. During Holi, in earlier times all union were permitted. Northwest India practiced formidable orgies during mowing, justifying such excesses by the vicious and widespread tendencies of men and women and which must be satiated to establish the balance of community.
In some houses, the image of Kamadeva is placed in the courtyard and made a simple offering of mango flowers and sandalwood paste. In many places, the god of love Kama in reference to Shiva and Parvati was honored during Holi, and so the spring festival is also a favorable time for weddings. This is what can explain the other names given to this festival like the Vasanta Mahotsava and Kama Mahotsava.
This pagan festival coincides with the full moon of the month of Phalguna, which is in February or March and is associated with fertility, feasts and love. This festival leaves aside the differences of class, caste or origin and becomes a joyful and casual celebration.
Originally there was practically no religious custom, no fasting or special worship on the day of Holi. In general, on the day of Vasant Panchami, almost forty days before Holi, a wooden log was placed in an important public place. The log was lit in the night of Phalguna Purnima during a very simple ceremony during which the Rakshoghna mantras of the Rigveda were sometimes recited to ward off evil spirits. Coconuts were also thrown in this bonfire. The next morning, the ashes of the bonfire were picked up as the consecrated object and the limbs of the body were smeared.
Earlier, it was the married women who were responsible for celebrating Holi for the happiness and well-being of their families. They adored the deity of the full moon (Raka). There were two ways of calculating the lunar months, the purnimant and amanta. In the first system, the first day followed the full moon, while in the second, the first day follows the new moon.
Nowadays, it is the second method of calculation which is the most common, but in the past, it was the first one that was very in vogue. According to the purnimant system, Phalguna Purnima fell on the last day of the year and the new year announced the Vasanta ritu and spring began the next day. It was thus that the feast of Holi had gradually become an occasion for rejoicing, which foreshadowed the advent of the spring season.
Holi is a very old annual event. It already existed several centuries before Christ and was celebrated by all Aryans. At first it was mainly focused on rituals performed by married women, for the welfare and happiness of their families. They are also references in the sculptures and walls of ancient temples. A sixteenth-century panel found in a temple in Hampi, capital of Vijayanagar, shows just a typical scene of Holi which depicts a prince surrounded by princesses who pour the colored liquid in the actual cup.
In a 1755 painting we see the ruler who dances and in the center there is a tub filled with colored water. In fact it is a party where the color was the central theme. They hug, kiss, sing, dance and play, to testify that this particular day was the day of love.
Holi also celebrates the arrival of spring. Bhang, a drink made of marijuana leaves and milk is drunk that according to the tradition was also a popular drink of Shiva.
Earlier people made their own colors at home using the flowers of the tesu tree, turmeric, neem, dhak, kumkum. To get the color, they were dried in the sun and then crushed to dust. The fine powder was then mixed with water to achieve the colours. Married girls put on gold or silver powder in small amount on the forehead as a tilak.
On the night of the first day of the festival, a fire is lit to recall the cremation of Holika. On the second day, known as the rang panchami, the people dress in white and carry pigments of colors that they throw at each other. It is then customary to apologize by saying Bura na mano, Holi hai. It is also an opportunity for people to invite friends and neighbours to share dishes prepared especially for this occasion like malpua and gujia.
With guns and water balloons, cubes and colored powder, Indians of all ages play a war of colors until a color layer barely recognizes them. It is impossible to escape the most colorful celebration of the year and not join a spontaneous party on the street.
Later the original rites of fertility and love were replaced by religious stories for obvious reasons by later religious groups and the priestly class. Legends were added of a Asura king named Hiranyakashipu whose son, Prince Prahlad was fond of the Deva King Vishnu. The king's sister, Holika decided to kill the prince by throwing him on a pyre. Prahlad was saved by Vishnu and instead Holiká was set on fire and Vishnu also killed Hiranyakashipu.
In the region of Braj, Vrindavan, Barsana, Nandgaon in the area of Mathura in northern India, the celebration of the festival recalls this legend lasts 16 days and gives official start to spring. In the Braj region, women have the option of playfully beating men who save themselves with shields, because on the day, men are expected to accept what women serve out for them. This ritual is called lathmar holi.
In Haryana and Gujarat, a pot of serum is hung on the streets and young people try to reach out and break making human pyramids while girls try to stop them throwing colored water. They crown the boy who finally manages to break the pot as king of the year for that community.
In some places, there is an offering in Hindu families without giving away that the women of the families tie their sisters-in-law with their saris on a rope in a mock, while they try to wet them with colors and then the brothers-in-law bring the candy for them by the late.
The Bengalis celebrate Holi as Dolyatra or festival of swings, where statues of Radha and Krishna are put in hammocks. Women sing songs, throw colors and dance, while devotees spin around to swing them. Traditional delicacies are prepared in advance and served while playing Dol Purnima.
In Shantiniketan, Dol is celebrated in a unique way, where students welcomes the spring with music and dancing until dawn. Young girls wear yellow saris and dance around the ashram to the rhythm of the songs of Rabindranath Tagore.
The people of Orissa celebrate Holi in a similar manner but here the idols of Jagannath, the deity of the temple of Puri, replace the idols of Krishna and Radha. In Maharashtra, the Holi is celebrated as Shimga. Locally they call it as Ukkuli in Konkani or Kuli Manjal in Malayalam.
Manipur in Northeastern India celebrate Holi for six days. Introduced in the eighteenth century with the Vaishnavism, soon it merged with the ancient festival of Yaoshang. Traditionally, on the night of the full moon of Phalguna young people perform a folk dance, called thabal chongba, to the folk songs and rhythmic beats of the drums.
However, this party at the moonlight now has modern touches, fluorescent lights and a bonfire on a hut covered with hay to mark Holika Dahan. The boys have to give money to girls to play holi with them.