By Chaitra Somasundar, Staff Writer
On March 19, T-Birds walked into the Rugby Field to celebrate the festival of colors organized by the India Subcontinent Club (ISCC). Students wore white outfits, applied rainbow colors on each other and splashed water while dancing to casual Bollywood music. This was followed by all of us devouring “samosas”, the Indian snack and “gulab jamun,” a famous Indian savory. Being one of the most popular Indian festivals worldwide, it is important for us to know the history and purpose behind celebrating the festival of colors.
Holi is celebrated on the full moon of the 12th month of the Hindu Lunar calendar – Phalguna masam. This festival emphasizes the end of winter season and the arrival of spring season and the victory of good over evil. It is seen by many as an auspicious opportunity to mend difficult relationships with family and friends. Many mythological tales and legends are linked to this festival.
The first and the most popular legend is about a demonic father, Hiranyakashyap and his son, Prahlad. Hiranyakashyap wanted to rule the world and have all his subjects worship him the way they worshiped one of the main Gods in Hinduism – Vishnu. To his horror, Prahlad was a devout devotee of Vishnu! In his rage, Hiranyakashyap ordered Prahlad to sit in his sister Holika’s lap on a burning pyre. He expected Prahlad to suffer a painful death since Holika had a boon that made her immune to fire. However, when Prahlad sat on her lap, Lord Vishnu saved his devotee and evil Holika was burned. This is why the eve of Holi is known and Holika Dahanam, where people create bonfires celebrating the destruction of evil and the restoration of all that is good.
The second most popular legend is associated with the blue-skinned God, Krishna – an avatar of Vishnu. Young Krishna and Radha fell in love. However, Krishna was curious about the difference in the color of their skins. He constantly asked his mother Yashoda about why he was blue and Radha wasn’t. Tired of his questions, his mother asked him to color himself and Radha with their choice of colors. This began the playful practice of smearing color on each others’ faces.
Another legend speaks of Lord Shiva, who renounced all worldly pleasures and duties, grieving the loss of his beloved Sati. However, he was needed by the world to maintain peace and order. Parvati, his devotee, prayed and meditated to marry Lord Shiva. In an act of encouragement, Kamdev – the Lord of Love and Lust, distracted Lord Shiva from his penance. This act angered Shiva and he burnt Kamdev with his third eye. In South India, people commemorate Kamdev by lighting bonfires.
The Evolution of Holi:
Over the years, these legends positioned Holi as the festival celebrating all that is good including relationships and friendships. Today, it is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and people of other religions. Celebrations are seen across the world in Bangladesh, Guyana, Mauritius, Nepal, South Africa, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom and the US.
Holi is known as Phagwa in Trinidad and Tobago. Hindus who migrated to Trinidad in 1845 are said to have brought the festival into the country. In addition, playing with colors, there is the tradition of a style of folk song called Chowtal here. This high-pitched song is generally played with a hand drum and cymbals. Dance always comes with this fast-paced song, making the celebration merrier.
One of the most popular events inspired by Holi in the USA is the Festival of Colors in Utah. Held in front of the Krishna Temple, Holi is accompanied by a variety of events on stages such as traditional music and dance, yoga and even rock concerts! Thousands of people buy tickets several months in advance to be a part of this massive event. For more information, visit http://www.festivalofcolorsusa.com/
For more information on the celebration of Holi across the world, visit http://www.holifestival.org/