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Holi, the festival of colours, is one of the most anticipated festivals in the year, and is celebrated with much gusto by Indians across the world every year. According to the Bikram Sambat Hindu calendar, the festival is celebrated on the day of Purnima, the full moon, in the month of Falgun for two consecutive days — the first day known as Chhoti Holi or Holika Dahan and the second as Rangwali Holi, Dhuleti, Dhulandi or Dhulivandan. This year,the festival falls on March 1 and March 2, respectively.
Apart from the fun associated with Holi, it also has a lot of significance. The festival indicates the victory of good over evil, marks the beginning of spring and the end of winters and is also celebrated as a thanks-giving for good harvest. During the festival, people playfully smear each other with colours, spend time with family members and loved ones and indulge in sumptuous feasts.
The word Holi, derived from the word “hola”, means to offer prayers to the gods for good harvest. Along with the significance, the festival also has a lot of fascinating legends attached to it. It is believed that Hiranyakashyap, a demon king, wanted to be immortal. While he wanted everybody to treat him like God, his son Prahlada was a devotee of Vishnu. Strongly disapproving, he asked his sister Holika to enter into a furnace with his son Prahlada on her lap. While Holika was supposed to be immune to fire, because of her ill thoughts, her life was sacrificed, but Lord Vishnu managed to save Prahlada from the fire. He then took the form of the Narasimha avatar and killed the evil Hiranyakashyap. This is why the festival is celebrated as the victory of good over evil.
There are also interesting stories that explain why colours form such an integral part in the festival. It is believed at Vrindavan and Gokul, Krishna used to celebrate the festival with colours. Generally, On Holika Dahan, the first day of the puja, a bonfire is lit. People gather around the fire known as Chhoti Holi and perform ‘pingpuja’, while praying for the long life and prosperity of their loved ones. On Rangpanchami, the second day of the festival, people play with colours. Another popular legend of Holi celebrations suggests that Kaamadeva, the god of passion, awoke Shiva from his deep meditation so he could save the world. This story is famous in Southern India.
While smearing each other playfully with gulaal or colours, people during Holi also sing and dance to traditional folk and classic Bollywood Holi songs. With loud and cheerful cries of “Bura na mano holi hai” in the air. Delicacies like gujiyas, malpuas, mathri, puran poli, dahi vada and the quintessential Holi drink called thandai are feasted upon by people, during the festival. The celebrations also include people forming a human pyramid and breaking a pot full of buttermilk hung up on a considerable height.