What is the Holi Festival?

Holi is a Hindu Festival that marks the arrival of spring. It’s widely known as the Festival of Colour and takes place over two days, starting on Purnima (Full Moon Day). The festival signifies the victory of good over evil and is a celebration of fertility, colour and love.

Holi is celebrated in India, Malaysia or and many other countries where there is a significant Hindu population. During this festival, these countries are filled with light, colour and love. In recent years, the festival has spread and celebrations now take place in many parts of Europe and North America.

The festival takes place on Purnima, also known as Full Moon Day. This year, Holi will take place the 13th and 14th of March.

First things first: the Holika bonfire

The celebrations start the night before Holi with a Holika bonfire, this year on the 12th of March. There are numerous legends associated with this tradition and it is difficult to pin-point as to when the tradition actually started.

The legend of Holika

Once, there was a king: King Hiranyakashipu. The king was given five special powers: he could not be killed by a human or an animal, neither indoors or outdoors, neither at day or night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any Shastra (handheld weapons) and neither on land nor in water or air. The King lived like a God, fearing no one and forcing everyone to worship him.

The King’s son, Prahlad, refused to worship his father because of his cruelty and devoted himself to Vishnu, the God of protection and the preservation of Good.

The King was infuriated by his son’s betrayal and wanted him dead and he tried to kill his son several times, but Vishnu protected Prahlada from every attempt. The King’s sister was the demoness Holika. She promised the King that she would tell Prahlada that she also worshipped Vishnu and convince him to make an offering to the God.

Holika and Prahlade climbed on a pyre, but Holika was wearing a fire-resistant cloak so the fire would not harm her. But thanks to Vishnu, Holika went up in flames and Prahlada remained unharmed.

Vishnu appeared in the form of Narasimha – half man, half lion, at dusk and he came upon the King at twilight on the threshold of a courtyard. He put the King on his thighs and killed the King using his lion claws. It was neither day or night, neither indoors nor outdoors and the King was killed neither on land nor air by using neither projectile weapons nor handheld weapons.

The festival of colours

The day after the bonfire and the burning of Holika, they celebrate Rangwali Holi. It is a free-for-all carnival of colours. People gather in open streets, parks, temples and public spaces. They chase each other around, throwing coloured powder and water, singing, dancing, eating and just letting loose.

It represents a time when friends, families and communities can get together without any concern for caste or ethnicity. Friend or foe, rich or poor, on this day it doesn’t matter. It’s a day to forget and forgive. The use of these flashy colours is also to symbolise nature in full bloom, and the reincarnation of Vishnu as Lord Krishna, who played jokes on children by squirting coloured water on them.