Recently, the Indian tradition of Holi, also known as the Festival of Colours, was celebrated around the world. Wherever there are large Hindu populations, these joyous and sometimes raucous days of parades, bonfires, music and meals are always highlighted by the throwing of colored powders and the spraying of colored water. Although the holiday tradition originated in India and Nepal, the faithful of Bangladesh and Pakistan also participate. Even Hindu populations in the United Kingdom and the United States join in on the fun. Not-surprisingly, many non-Hindus can't resist the colorful mayhem that accompanies this celebration. In big cities such as Houston, Austin, Washington and New York City, the attendance continues to grow each year.
One Indian tradition says that Holika, the wicked sister of King Hiranyakashipu, and the king's son were placed together on a pyre, which was then lit. While the evil aunt was consumed by the fire, the innocent young boy survived. Hence, a commemorative bonfire is built from old wood and leaves each year and ignited late on the first night of Holi. This is also an occasion to burn away the old residue of winter and to celebrate the new life and rebirth the world experiences as spring finally arrives. In fact, Holi was probably an agricultural festival in ancient times. The green powders thrown on people symbolize vitality, fertility, happiness and life.
Holi also commemorates a second tradition, the love between Lord Krishna and his soul mate, Radna. Apparently, he was given permission to color her fair face to make her appear darker. He also loved playing with and splashing young maidens with water. Red, the dominant color of the holiday reminds participants of love and passion. As in the United States, sensuality and energy are symbolized by this color. However, in India, red is also the color of purity and a popular choice for weddings.
A deep, vibrant Prussian blue powder is another popular holiday choice. Known as Lord Krishna's color, this shade is sacred in India. Although it will be thrown wildly with the other colored powders or sprayed in water guns, blue is still considered a sacred color and associated with calmness and tranquility. For Hindus, saffron is the most revered color, and as such, it might be considered India's favorite color.
Yellow is everywhere at Holi. It has an element of sacredness and piety and is frequently used at weddings, but it also has an element of sensuality. As Lord Visnu's color, it is reputed to repel evil, attract a desired mate and to welcome spring. Although early celebrants once smeared ashes from the bonfires on their faces, black is not a popular Indian color. It is never displayed at weddings or births, and it is never worn by pregnant women or children.
White, on the other hand, represents both tranquility and purity. It may be worn to celebrate the death and rebirth of a loved one. It's the best color to wear to start your Holi celebration. At the "Color in Motion" and "Color Me Red" 5K marathons held in conjunction with this holiday, participants dress in white running clothes. As they complete each kilometer, they are doused with a different-colored, bright powder.
Holi may well be the least religious Hindu celebration, but it is certainly a time for fun and merriment. More importantly, it is an invitation to cross social barriers and to build stronger community ties. No wonder Americans are falling in love with this colorful, carefree holiday!
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