Holi is a popular ancient Hindu festival, also known as the "Festival of Love", the "Festival of Colors" and the "Festival of Spring".
March 20th marks the Spring equinox this year. It's the first official day of Spring, signaling the beginning of longer and warmer days. We look forward to this time of year after cold winters and short, darker days. In India, one ritual that celebrates this time is the effervescent, color-filled festival of Holi.
What is Holi?
This year Holi will take place on March 18th. The festival is considered a time to celebrate by cleansing ourselves of the heavy energies associated with winter and welcoming the new energies associated with the arrival of Spring, which also signify the triumph of light over darkness and of love and goodness over evil.
There are several accounts of the origins of this Hindu celebration, but the most widely-known version is that of an evil king who forced his citizens to worship him as a god. His son Prahlada, however, remained devoted to Vishnu.
The king, angry at his son’s devotion to Vishnu, made a plan with his sister Holika to kill Prahlada. Holika, who was immune to fire, convinced Prahlada to sit on a pyre with her. Prahlada’s devotion to Vishnu kept him safe and he didn’t burn, but Holika burned to death despite her born immunity to fire.
For this reason, on the eve of the Holi celebration, large pyres are lit throughout cities. These pyres symbolize the burning of evil spirits.
How is Holi celebrated?
Holi is now celebrated throughout the world, although its origins are from India where it’s been celebrated as far back as 4th Century CE. Vibrantly colored powders, called gulal, are thrown in the air at large gatherings.
These powders represent the colors of succulent fruits, foliage, and beautiful flowers that will emerge in the upcoming months. Each color represents something different. For example, green symbolizes new beginnings, red symbolizes love and energy, blue signifies spiritual growth and faith, and yellow represents health and peace.
In India it is also customary to throw balloons filled with colored water. Families distribute sweets to neighbors and friends. It's a truly joyous celebration.
Celebration of unity and humanity
A beautiful aspect of the Holi festival is that the caste system, a system which was formerly used to divide citizens by social class, was traditionally put on the back burner and all castes came together to celebrate as one.
While the caste system is now outlawed, the symbolism and powerful ideals of a unified society are at the root of Holi. Letting go of man-made ideals of caste or socio-economic status is a way to celebrate the unity and peace that should exist within humanity and it makes this festival an exceptionally enjoyable and memorable experience for everyone in attendance.