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Festivals of India: Holi
by Smt. Anjali Ambekar

Holi Festival
The colorful festival of Holi is celebrated on Phalgun Purnima which comes in February end or early March. Holi festival has an ancient origin and celebrates the triumph of 'good' over 'bad'. This colorful festival bridges the social gap and renews sweet relationships among people.
History of Holi
Holi is an ancient festival of India and was originally known as 'Holika'. The festival finds a detailed description in early religious works such as Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras and Jaimini's Purvamimamsa-Sutras. Historians also believe that Holi was celebrated by all Aryans but more so in the Eastern part of India. Holikotsava finds a mention in the Puranas such as Narada Purana and Bhavishya Purana. A stone inscription belonging to 300 BC found at Ramgarh in the province of Vindhya has mention of Holikotsava on it. King Harsha, too has mentioned about holikotsava in his work Ratnavali that was written during the 7th century. It is stated that during the Vedic period the sacred fire of Holi was burnt amidst the chanting of specific mantras which were intended for the destruction of the demonic forces. It is also said that on this very day Vaishwadev oblation commenced in which offerings of wheat, gram and oat were made to the sacrificial fire.
Holi in Temple Sculptures
Holi is one of the oldest among Hindu festivals, there is no doubt. Various references are found in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century panel sculpted in a temple at Hampi, capital of Vijayanagar, shows a joyous scene depicting Holi where a royal couple is standing amidst maids waiting with syringes to drench the royal couple in colored water.
Holi in Medieval Paintings
A 16th century Ahmednagar painting is on the theme of Vasanta Ragini - spring song or music. It shows a royal couple sitting on a grand swing, while maidens are playing music and spraying colors with pichkaris (hand-pumps). A Mewar painting (circa 1755) shows the Maharana with his courtiers. While the ruler is bestowing gifts on some people, a merry dance is on, and in the center is a tank filled with colored water. A miniature from Bundi shows kings seated on a tusker and from a balcony above some damsels are showering gulal (colored powders) on him. There are a lot of other paintings and murals in the temples of medieval India which provide a pictoral description of Holi.
Origins of Holi
All great Hindu festivals have religious, social and hygienic elements in them. Every season has a festival of its own. Holi is the great spring festival of India. Being an agricultural country, India’s two big festivals come during the harvest time when the barns and granaries of our farmers are full and they have reason to enjoy the fruits of their hard labour. The harvest season is a festive season all over the world. Man wants relaxation and change after hard work. He needs to be cheered when he is depressed on account of work and anxieties. Festivals like Holi supply him with the real food and tonic to restore his cheer and peace of mind.
Legends and Mythology
There are various legends to explain the meaning of this word, most prominent of all is the legend associated with demon king Hiranyakashipu. Hiranyakashipu wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlada became an ardent devotee of Lord Narayana. Hiranyakashipu commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlada in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlada was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.
The Story of Dhundhi
Another legend mentioned in the 'Bhavishya Purana' is also considered to be related to the festival of Holi. The legend goes back to the kingdom of Raghu, where lived an ogress called Dhundhi who used to trouble children but was finally chased away by them on the day of Holi. This is said to be the reason why the tradition of Holika Dahana is so popular amongst children and why they are allowed to play pranks on the day.
The Tradition
There is also a specific way in which Holika Dahana takes place. A log of wood is kept in a prominent public place on the Vasant Panchami day, almost 40 days before the Holi Festival. People go on throwing twigs, dried leaves, branches of trees left through the winter besides any other combustible material they can spare, on to that log which gradually grows into a sizable heap. On the day of Holika Dahana an effigy of Holika with child Prahlada in her lap is kept on the logs. Usually, Holika's effigy is made of combustible materials, whereas, Prahlada's effigy is made of non-combustible one. On the night of Phalguna Purnima, it is set alight amidst the chanting of Rakshoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda (4.4.1-15; 10.87.1-25 and so on) to ward off all evil spirits. Next morning the ashes from the bonfire are collected as prasad and smeared on the limbs of the body. If spared by the fire coconuts are also collected and eaten.
Metaphorically though, the fire is meant to signify the destruction of evil - the burning of the 'Holika' - a mythological character and the triumph of good as symbolised by Prahlada. Holika Dahana or the lighting of bonfire takes place on the eve of Holi. Holika Dahana is an extremely popular tradition and is celebrated with fervour all across the country and is symbolic of triumph of good over evil. There are numerous legends associated with this ancient tradition and it is difficult to pin-point as to when actually the tradition started. However, the heat from the fire also depicts that winter is behind and the hot summer days are ahead. Next day after Holika Dahana is called Dhuleti, when play with colours actually takes place.
Holi Celebration
Holi celebration takes place with lot of joy and verve throughout the country. The colourful festival of Holi is celebrated by different names in this vast and culturally diverse country. The traditions followed for the festival varies a little and at times a lot as one moves from one state to other studying the various facets of the festival and getting behind the various colours of it. Nowhere it is celebrated with so much charm and enthusiasm as in Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana and Nandgaon - the places associated with the birth and childhood of Lord Krishna.
At Barsana Holi assumes the name of Lathmaar Holi. Here, women of Barsana give a tough time to men of Nandgaon as they come to play Holi with them. Women drag the unlucky captives, beat them, dress them in a female attire - yet all is in the spirit of Holi.
Women of Haryana, specifically the Bhabhis too get an upper hand on the day as they get a social sanction to beat their Devars and take a sweet revenge for all the mischiefs they have played on them. This revengeful tradition is called the Dulandi Holi.
The most enjoyable tradition of Holi, of course, apart from the play of colours is the tradition of breaking the pot. It is celebrated with much fun fair in the state of Gujarat. Here a pot of buttermilk is hung high on the streets. Men form a huge human pyramid and one on the top breaks the pot with his head. All this while women keep singing Holi folk songs and throwing buckets and buckets of water. The tradition has its roots in the mischievous nature of Lord Krishna who was so fond of butter milk that he used to steal it from every accessible house in the village. To hide the butter from young Krishna, womenfolk used to hang it high. All in vain!
For Sikhs, Holi calls for the display of their physical strength and military prowess as they gather at Anandpur Sahib a day after Holi to celebrate Hola Mohalla. The tradition was started by the tenth and last guru of Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh ji and is being religiously carried forward.
In the north east, Manipuris celebrate the festival in a colourful manner for six continuous days. Here, the centuries old Yaosang Festival of Manipur amalgated with Holi with the introduction of Vaishnavism in the eighteenth century. The highlight of the festival here is a special Manipuri dance, called 'Thabal Chongba'.
In south India, however, people follow the tradition of worshiping Kamadeva, the love god of Indian mythology. People have faith in the legend which speaks about the great sacrifice of Kamadeva when he shot his love arrow on Lord Shiva to break his meditation and evoke his interest in worldly affairs.
Well, there are many-many more ways in which Holi is celebrated. Different states, different cities and different villages have come out with their unique and innovative styles of playing Holi. spirit of Holi remains the same throughout. It is the festival which generates the spirit of brotherhood and bring people close - and this is what matters most than anything else.
In the midst of these colouring games are savoured the mouth watering holi specialities like gujiya, malpuas, mathri, puran poli, dahi badas etc and downed with glasses full of thandai. And after a wild and eventful day, evenings are celebrated in a dignified manner by visiting friends and relatives. People exchange sweets and hug each other conveying the warm wishes for Holi. These days there people also participate and organize Holi Meets and enjoy the festival till late in the night.
Dhoolivandana or Dhuleti
This is the first day (pratipada) in the dark fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Phalgun. On this day either the ashes of Holi or dust is worshipped. Next day, is of course the main day of Holi celebrations. The day is called Dhuleti and it is on this day that the actual play of colours take place. There is no tradition of holding puja and is meant for pure enjoyment. The tradition of playing colours is particularly rampant in north India and even in that region; there can be no comparison to the Holi of Mathura and Vrindavan. In Maharashtra and Gujarat too Holi is celebrated with lot of enthusiasm and fun.
Rangapanchami
It is celebrated on the fifth day (panchami) in the dark fortnight of the Hindu lunar month of Phalgun by throwing a red, fragrant powder (gulal) and splashing coloured water, etc. on others. Rang Panchami involves invocation of Gods and is a part of worship of the manifest form of Gods. Its purpose is to activate the five elements of radiant manifest colours and to touch and feel the Deities who are attracted to the respective colours. These five elements are a source, which help activate the element of the Deities according to the spiritual emotion of the Jiva. Rang Panchami is the worship of the saviour form of the Deities.
Significance of Holi :- In spite of being such a colourful festival, there are various aspects of Holi which makes it so significant for our lives.
Cultural Significance
Celebration of the various legends associated with Holi reassures the people of the power of the truth as the moral of all these legends is the ultimate victory of good over evil. The legend of Hiranyakashiapu and Prahlada also points to the fact that extreme devotion to god pays as god always takes his true devotee in his shelter. All these legends inspire the people to follow a good conduct in their lives and believe in the virtue of being truthful.
Social Significance
Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the secular fabric of our country. For, the festival is celebrated by non-Hindus also as everybody like to be a part of such a colourful and joyous festival. Also, the tradition of the Holi is that even the enemies turn friends on Holi and forget any feeling of hardship that may be present. Besides, on this day people do not differentiate between the rich and poor and everybody celebrate the festival together with a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood. In the evening people visit friends and relatives and exchange gifts, sweets and greetings. This helps in revatalising relationships and strengthening emotional bonds between people.
Love Play of Radha & Krishna
Lord Krishna has often been portrayed as a naughty prankster in his childhood and a lover-boy in his youth. His beloved Radha and the cowherd girls 'Gopis' in general loved him even more for his pranks. The Holi of Braj is famous all over India for its intimate connection with the divine deities and their love plays. It is said that when Krishna was a young boy, he asked the reason for his dark color while Radha was so fair. His mother Yashoda playfully suggested that he should smear color on Radha's face too and change her complexion to any color he wanted. Captivated by the idea, Krishna proceeded to do so and thus, introduced the play of colors on Holi.
The trace of eroticism and romance pervades Holi as depicted in the love plays of Krishna and Radha. In Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul and Barsana, Holi is a two-week long festival featuring play of colors, folk songs called 'Hori', folk dances such as Raas-Lila, staging the various aspects of Radha and Krishna's love.



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