Friday, March 10, 2017

Holi: the Carnival of Colours



Holi, after Diwali is one of the most important festivals in India, characterized by its festive atmosphere, with a variable date between February and March, and which combines elements such as costumes, parades, and street parties. The date of this festival is related to the lunar cycle and accommodate the days so that Holi always falls on the full moon between March and April.

Holi, the spring festival is also known as the festival of colors, Basanta Utsav and is one of the oldest celebrations in India. From the post-Vedic era, Holi has been dedicated to Krishna in northern India and the 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 typical 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 colors 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 that 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 the date and is fixed on the last day of the 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 semi-mature 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 the 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 community and to the restoration of the 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. The custom that is the real human immolation mirror before, the 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 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 remains the festival of a 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 colors was linked to the belief that laughter, although not real, move away from 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 celebrated this type of festivals 5,000 years ago.

The surrender of the 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 in 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 fertilized 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 kinds of unions 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 the 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 Vasant 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 on 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, the 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 colors. Married girls put on gold or silver powder in a 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 neighbors 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 an 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 the 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 as the king of the year for that community who finally manages to break the pot.



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 welcome 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 celebrates 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.

The carnival is a public celebration that takes place immediately before Christian Lent, with a variable date between February and March, and which combines elements such as costumes, parades, and street parties. The dates of this calendar are related to the lunar cycle and accommodate the days so that Holy Thursday is always on a full moon and the first Thursday of the full moon is chosen between March and April). The carnival always accommodates in such a way that the last parade is a day before Ash Wednesday, which move according to the lunar cycle.

The largest carnival celebration today in the world is that of Rio de Janeiro. Other internationally famous carnivals are Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Cádiz and Aguilas (Murcia) in Spain, Callao in Venezuela, Colonia in Germany, Oruro in Bolivia, Venice in Italy, The Carnival of Blacks and Whites of Pasto and Barranquilla in Colombia.

In Mexico, the carnivals of Veracruz, Mazatlán, Guamúchil, Mocorito, Jalostotitlan are one of the best along with the ones in Angostura and the one of the Huejotzingo. La Guelaguetza is a tradition in this municipality with more than 10 years in which the tradition and culture of Oaxaca and Chimalhuacán are fused. The Calenda is a night procession in which there are drink and burning of pyrotechnic games and the Guelaguetza which is when dances are presented.

Another very traditional dance that also takes place in weddings is the Tonal dance, a tradition brought from the state of Oaxaca, which consists of dancing on two turkeys tied in a basket, one carried by a woman and the other by a man. The parents and grandparents of the newlyweds perform the dance in order to attract abundance and good luck for newlyweds.

The Tlaxcalan carnival dances, although different from each other, have two characteristics in common. Firstly, they are satirical, because the participants mock the upper classes of different historical stages of the state through the dress and masks of carved wood. Secondly, they possess a strongly religious character, the result of the mixture of the philosophical thoughts of the Nahua natives.

In addition, in some populations, such as Amaxac, those in charge of the groups of dancers come to the temple of their community just before the celebration begins to ask permission from God and offer them the dances, custom inherited from the pre-Hispanic religion. In the communities where these dances are performed, the population considers them to be their main symbol of ethnic and cultural identity, such as San Juan Totolac, San Bernardino Contla, Panotla, Chiautempan, Amaxac de Guerrero, Santa Cruz Tlaxcala, Yahuquemecan, San José Teacalco, San Cosme Xalostoc, Texoloc, Tlaxcala, Tepeyanco, Tenancingo, Papalotla, San Francisco Tetlanocan, to mention a few.

The selection of music and dances from the eight representative regions of Oaxaca give color to the festivity in which men and women show the diversity of rhythms and embroidery that characterize each region

During the festivities, large dances and masquerade parties are organized, and the traditional Danzón of the folklore of Veracruz is interpreted. Their music from harps, marimbas, and guitars floods the whole festival.

In the village of the Rock of the Baths, in the Venustian Carranza Delegation, the Carnival took place with its three districts, El Carmen, Ascensión, and Reyes, whose inhabitants dress up in gowns and they go out in pairs in traditional wax masks. Because of the Yucatecan culture, people are usually more reserved and organized, which makes the party very pleasant for all ages and conditions.

The Mérida Carnival is characterized by its original aesthetic aspect since the contemporary culture fuses with the Mayan culture.

The longest is the Carnival of Montevideo, Uruguay that extends for 41 days and those of Corrientes, Jujuy and in Entre Ríos, Argentina, since they last from the first weekend of January until the first weekend of March.

In the Mesopotamian region bordering Brazil and Uruguay, there are important celebrations in a style similar to the Brazilian carnival, although with elements of the Rio de la Plata culture as candombe. Of great fame are the ones that have their center in the city of Corrientes, in the province of the same name, that offer parades of floats and with very luxurious costumes.

Another carnival is the Carnival of Gualeguaychú in the province of Entre Ríos. It is also important to highlight the importance of the Carnival of Gualeguay in the eighties flooded the narrow streets of the old colonial city with the splendor of the greatest Argentine carnival in those years. With music, color and joy, characterized by his skill in dancing and the beauty of his dancers, the Carnival of Concordia is lived to the full.

Thee corsódromo is the stage where you find Burst, Empress, Empire, Bella Samba and Unisur, with their costumes of sequins, floats, feathers, movements and that strange seduction that tempts to enjoy the moment without prejudices, and are the ones that take charge every night of the catwalk filling the calm aspect of one of the biggest cities, representing interesting allegorical themes, rhythm and fun.

Also in Entre Ríos, unlike other expressions of the Carnival of Victoria, Terror do Corso in its eagerness to make clear that the carnival is a popular celebration and that therefore must be free and free, instead of starting the circuit or corsódromo, He leaves at 10 o'clock at night to wander the streets of the city adding people to reach the corsódromo when the official Corsican, sometimes,

In the city of Buenos Aires, is celebrated to the rhythm of the hype and the saucer, of the murgas porteñas. Most of the neighborhoods have their corso with their murgas. In the Province of La Rioja, La Chaya Riojana is an ancestral and popular party closely linked to the Carnival, which recognizes as the main protagonist the Pujllay, a life-size rag doll with a gray head around which the celebration takes place.

The carnival in Bolivia is lived and celebrated over several days, in each town and city, there is a parade of groups that dance different folk dances. Other rites are held during the days of the carnival, such as the ch'alla, a libation and offering to the Pachamama (Mother Earth) in gratitude for all the favors received, such as agricultural products. One of the biggest carnivals in Bolivia is the Oruro Carnival.

The carnival of the city of Tarija is another of the most important carnivals of Bolivia. Men and women walk the streets of the city with beautiful cakes decorated with seasonal fruits, sweets, flowers, cheese, etc. Whoever receives the present becomes a companion and commits themselves to accompany their new companion in the good and the bad. At night the women go out to the square to dance with their cakes.

The most representative rhythms of the Colombian Caribbean Coast are in cumbia, puya, mapale, scribble and jalao. In Chile, the most important is the Carnavalón, which is a ceremony accompanied by music, dances, and fruits of the area. Carnivals have a rich history in Cuba. The elements common to all parties are floats parades, choreographic competitions between comparsas, the simultaneous presentation of great orchestras of popular music, mass dances and the sale of food and drinks.

The Ecuadorian carnival is very cultural and celebrated with water, carnival foam, talcum powder, eggs and flour to paint the face or any type of vegetable paint. They are famous the songs of the carnival with phrases of humor and picarescas that is sung in groups. People drink the typical liqueur of the area, the blue bird. In Guano, the big carnival is played with inks, flour, eggs, dust and water accompanied by the singing of the songs of the carnival.

In the southern part of the country, especially in the provinces of Azuay and Cañar, water is also used and some other elements such as flour in a kind of wars, usually between relatives and acquaintances. The typical dish of this festival in Cuenca is the motepata. In the coast in the celebration besides the water, the foam and balloons also join the cultural celebrations of the area as in Esmeraldas. In Latacunga and Quito, the capital of Ecuador, the carnival is lived following the tradition of playing with water, foam, flour and so on.

The Carnival in Spain is an old festive celebration documented from the Middle Ages. In France, the Carnival of Nice is famous, with fantastic allegorical floats every year representing different parts of the world and cultures of times past.

In Venezuela, it was customary to play with water, blue colors, eggs, and other substances and it was in the eighteenth century that Carnival began to be held with floats, Comparsas, among other activities. However, in the East has prevailed the taste for the rumbas with African, European, Caribbean and Carioca influences. Afro-American music is also common in rhythms of sauces, meringues, calypsos, and samba.

In the celebration of the Dominican Carnival, we can see, in particular in the costumes, a mixture very varied by regions of African elements. The Cachuas, with a colored mameluco and bat wings, have one of the most beautiful masks in the country without painting, based on the multicolored paper of bladder and crepe, where a huge hair stands out. The carnival of Cotuí has a beautifully artistic, cultural and anthropological dimension, unique in the country, with its dry banana leaves and their vegetal masks of higüeros, indiscriminately decorated with termites and combs of wasps.

The carnival in Vega is symbolized in an expressive theatricalization, the dance of the ribbons and its Diablos Cojuelos, with simple red, yellow and green robes and with their masks representative of the medieval devil, andromorph, Mephistophelian, with his two classic front teeth, big ears, open mouth and teeth in the air, which was later creolized with goatskin beards.

Every Sunday of the month of February in the afternoon, the Diablos Cojuelos come out armed with their bull bladders, beating everyone who dares to go down to the street, but respecting those who remain on the sidewalk or road. Montecristi has a beautiful tradition of popular carnival, very unique and extraordinarily symbolic, expressed mainly in Los Toros as a central character, who is dramatized by his clashes with Los Civiles. These consist of a true duel with fuetes (whips), with which it tries to demolish to the opponent or to frighten it.

The Bulls have their face covered with a pig's mask (pig) and they wear colorful costumes, lined inside with material to protect them from the scourges of their opponents. Civilians, on the other hand, must wear shorts and normal clothing. The most characteristic feature of the Macorisian carnival is the presence of the Guloyas, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Devils dress in costumes of striking colors, adorned with small mirrors and yellow and red cloak. With their bladders of bull and fuetes, they dance to the beat of the flute, the cowbell, and the Tambora.

In Santiago Piglets and Pepines of the city appear, disguised in colorful costumes and attacking each other, following a long tradition of old rivalry between them. Piglets wear masks that resemble pigs, while Pepines wear masks with pointed horns.

The games with water and painting begin in the month of February throughout Peru and last for the whole month. Instead, folk festivals usually start a few days before Ash Wednesday. In the case of folk festivals, in rural areas and cities of Quechua and Aymara influence, they are accompanied by rites to the pachamama. In Paraguay games with water, water balloons and foam or artificial snow are usually performed on the weekends of February, as are carnival/Corsican parties.

The Carnivals of Panama are denominated by parties of the King Momo, which are celebrated on four consecutive days, previous to Ash Wednesday. This festival in Panama ends on Tuesday night with the funeral of the sardine. In the Carnival of Las Tablas the culecos are made, besides the cisterns that sprinkle water through hoses, also with extravagant floats and precious, with luxury materials.
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