Celebrate Holi, the festival of colors!
Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors
Holi celebrations captured in poetry date back to the 4th century CE. Also known as the Festival of Colors, Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the changing of the seasons from winter to spring. I asked some creative peers near and far, and they shared their knowledge and experiences:
“Also known as the Festival of Love, it celebrates the eternal and divine love between Radha Krishna. It also celebrates the significance of love, forgiveness, and building bridges in human relationships. Traditionally, it also signifies the triumph of good over evil. It is a festival carrying multiple messages submerged in its vibrant colors,” said Megha Sood, an award-winning Jersey City poet.
Unmesh Mohitkar, International Poet from Pune, Maharashtra, noted that Holi is the victory of good vs. evil that leads to “…burning of all the negative thoughts in your mind, represented by Holika bonfire, in which people contribute small pieces of wood… We also play colours. This is a day of equality. Anyone from any strata (level) of society can share their views about others openly and play colours.”
According to the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India website, in 2022 Holi is celebrated on March 18th and 19th and is one of the major festivals of India.
The Holi legend of good defeating evil is most notably told in the story of the burning and destruction of a demoness named Holika; made possible with the help of the Hindu god of preservation, Lord Vishnu.
Holi got its name as the "Festival of Colors" from the childhood antics of Lord Krishna, a reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, who liked to play pranks on the village girls by drenching them in water and colors. In parts of India, Holi is also celebrated as a spring festival to provide thanksgiving for an abundant harvest season.
Holi takes place according to the Hindu lunar calendar. The festival begins with Holika Dahan on the night of the full moon (purnima) in March each year and concludes with the throwing of colors the following day.
The emphasis of Holi rituals is on the burning of demoness Holika. On Holika Dahan, large bonfires are lit to mark the occasion. As well as conducting a special puja (worship ritual), people sing and dance around the fire and walk around it three times. In some parts of India, people even walk across the hot coals of the fire! Such firewalking is considered sacred.
The “Color Run” or “Playing of Colors” refers to the healing effect of pouring and throwing of colored powders made from natural sources, such as from flowers and herbs, on the human body.
Photo credit: Megha Sood & Son
Each color carries its own meaning:
For example, blue is a reminder that evil exists but can be contained, through courage and right actions and representative of Vishu, the preserver, in the form of Nilakantha, the blue-necked one. Krishna is a manifestation of Vishnu. His name means “dark,” and like Vishnu he is portrayed with blue skin. Blue, then, is the spiritually complex color of the gods.
Green, the color of nature and happiness, is another manifestation of Vishnu, Prince Rama, who spent most of his life in exile in the forest. In Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh in central India, married women often wear green bangles and a green sari in Rama’s honor. Since there is no naturally green dye in India, cottons and silks would be double dipped in indigo and in turmeric or pomegranate peel, which leads us to yellow.
Yellow is associated with the third caste of Vaisyas, or merchants. The 3,500-year-old Rig Veda book of sacred hymns refers to Lord Vishnu as tantuvardhan, or weaver, because he is said to have woven the rays of the sun into a garment for himself. He and Krishna are almost always shown dressed in yellow.
Photo credit: Smithsonian Mag (2016)
Nirupa Umapathy, from Chennai (previously Madras), India, Jersey City based Radical Everything founder, changemaker and writer brings awareness that Holi is not celebrated by everyone in or from India. Growing up in the south of India she left India at the age of 18 and admits to not celebrating Holi neither in Madras or the USA.
What does celebrating Holi look like across communities?
I asked this of some of the creatives in my circle, and they each offered these insights:
Priya Kumari is the founder of Eternal Tree books and is currently based in New Jersey. She provided these details about celebrating Holi:
“Holi is mainly celebrated across two days in our community. The celebrations begin on the night before Holi with Holika Dahan where we light a bonfire and offer prayers to Fire god. This fire is cleansing in nature and takes away all evil and regenerates our system. This is the time when gods are thanked for a good harvest, and some wheat corns are offered into fire as a symbol of making an offering to gods. Later we smear each other with gulal (dry color powder).
"The next day is Badi Holi which is a fun filled affair of colors. The air fills up with flying colors, sounds of folk songs and drums. We splash water and children often fling water balloons on each other. It is a fun time especially for children who carry water guns to squirt water on anyone passing by. This is the day when no one feels offended and everyone unleashes the inner child in themselves. It’s also the day when we set aside all the differences and immerse ourselves in the color of harmony and unity. Later in the evening, families gather for festive meals and gorge on specially prepared delicacies like gujiya, thandaai, chaat etc.”
Photo Credit: Priya Kumari, Apple Tree House, Jersey City NJ, Dec 2021
As an author and publisher of renown, Priya has a line of children’s books that cover a variety of topics. My Holi- Colors of Cheer, due for release Aug 2022, written to explain what Holi means to millions of people. My Holi gives the messages of loving one another, thanking Nature, and standing up for what is right.
Unmesh shared his community celebration:
“Holi starts with community Holika bonfire. Traditional ‘puja’ is done by walking around the bonfire. Coconuts are thrown in the bonfire. At home we prepare traditional dinner. In my area ‘puran poli’ is always there as a part of Holi dinner. Next day we play colours. It goes on till afternoon and our faces are unrecognizable. We come back take a bath and rest.”
What do you want to know about Holi?
Megha says, "Though they might not be so apparent, a closer look and a little thought reveal the significance of Holi in more ways than meets the eyes. Celebration of the various legends associated with Holi reassure the people of the power of the truth as the moral of all these legends is the ultimate victory of good over evil. Celebration and coming together as a community and understanding the power of love and forgiveness are essential social and community-building skills.
"The festival of Holi teaches this and more. Also, Holi comes at a time of the year when people tend to feel sleepy and lazy. Playing with colors and singing loudly as part of the festival celebration counteract this tardiness helps rejuvenate the human body.
"Finally, in this world where we are constantly divided over our views and opinions about religions and politics, Holi is one of the festivals that acts as a common thread stringing the people together teaching them the message of love, equality, and togetherness."
Photo Credit: Unmesh Mohitkar
Unmesh Mohitkar sees Holi as the “…festival of equality…”
Priya takes an active interest in helping other understand the significance of Holi: “Explaining the relevance of these special days will help to keep the traditions alive and answer the questions that our children might have about their culture and heritage. For instance, fire rituals and offerings made of medicinal herbs and substances into the fire destroy infections which are widespread during the seasonal change.”
Learn more about this joyous celebration
Photo Credit: Richard Ryals
Rang Barse: A Colorful Explosion
by Megha Sood
A colorful explosion
a kaleidoscopic implosion,
a vibrance shattered amongst
ends of the horizon,
stringing hearts unknown with love, joy, and laughter
breaking boundaries of creed and caste
smeared with colors and painting a vibrant palette
erasing hurt and mending broken bridges of past
Air suffused with laughter and music
that alludes to the month of Phalgun,
as we bid adieu to sharp winter
welcoming the spring with complete abandon
Dhol and manjiras resonating in color-laced streets
a feeling of bonhomie that pours out of every heart
A festival with its tinge appearing
in every shade and color
painting crimson laced sky
from the wee hours of the day
till the late sunset
The circumambulation around the bonfire
that warms the heart with joy and love
a burst of the colors
those glittering and spellbinding
flickers of delight
sending the vibration
throughout the galaxy
in a frenzy
experienced by you, me, and everyone
That exuberance and warmth
Holi carries in its womb
with its sacred thread
of love, laughter, and forgiveness
tying the hearts of millions into one.
Dhol: a large, barrel-shaped, or cylindrical wooden drum, typically two-headed, used in South Asia.
Manjira: Manjira (also spelled manjīrā or manjeera) is a traditional percussion instrument from India. In its simplest form, it consists of a pair of small hand cymbals.
Phalguna: It's the 12th month on the Hindu Calendar that marks the arrival of spring.
Bios and Links
· Author of the poetry collection named, 'Light Shadow Life - The Missing Verse of the Soul' available on Amazon from Pune, India.
· Performance poet and spoken word artist.
· Featured poet at multiple international open mics and podcasts.
· He has his own open mic ‘Let’s UN-Mesh Life’ every Saturday 9 pm IST, 10:30 am EST.
· He has performed at multiple international events like Singapore and San Jose poetry festival.
· A regular performer at Nuyorican Cafe, New York
· Featured poet on multiple International poetry open mics : Phynncabulary, Put it in the Chat, Word is Write, Time to Arrive, FUMFA
· Part of multiple Poetry Anthologies.
· He writes in 3 languages English, Hindi and Marathi.
· A globe trotter having visited 22 countries.
Megha Sood is an Award-winning Asian American Poet, Editor, Author, Literary Activist from New Jersey, USA. She is the recipient of the 2021 Poet Fellowship from MVICW ( Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creating Writing) and a 2020 National Level Winner for the Poetry Matters Project. Recipient of “Certificate of Excellence'' from Mayor, Jersey City, New Jersey. Associate Poetry Editor Literary Journals Mookychick(UK), Life and Legends (USA), and Literary Partner with “Life in Quarantine '', Stanford University. Member of National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW), Women’s National Book Association, and United Nation Association-US Chapter. Author of Chapbook ( “My Body is Not an Apology”, Finishing Line Press, 2021) and Full Length (“My Body Lives Like a Threat”, FlowerSongPress,2022). She blogs at https://meghasworldsite.wordpress.com/ and tweets at @meghasood16
Priya Kumari is the founder of Eternal Tree books, an independent publishing house which creates books inspired by Indian culture and native traditions for global distribution. Born and raised in the scenic foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, she inherited her love of reading and passion for the written word from her father, who owned a bookstore. The rich and detailed history of Indian culture and mythos is the source for her own books focusing on values of individual, social and ecological peace. All three books, she published last year, have won awards. Her upcoming book 'Leaf Talks Peace' is the first picture book by an Indian author endorsed by The Dalai Lama and spreads the much-needed message of harmony, compassion and tolerance. She and her work have been featured on News12, EBC radio, ITV gold and many podcasts and blogs. She is also a certified public accountant who lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. Find out more about her work on her website, www.eternaltreebooks.com
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
RescuePoetix™ is the Poet Laureate of Jersey City. She is a New Jersey native with deep family roots in Puerto Rico. Writing since she could remember, she found her performance voice and fell in love with Jersey City’s underground Arts diversity. She has over fifty original works recorded and developed collaborations from all corners of the world. Releases are available at a variety of online portals. RescuePoetix™ poetry is motivational, uplifting and empowering; designed to connect on a level far deeper than what the eye can perceive. Spinning verses in Spanish and English, her words weave stories of strength, growth, experience and love in its many evolving forms. @rescuepoetix