Sunday, February 28, 2010

Holi, Colours and Bhang

Hi there,

Wishing you, your family and your friends a very Happy and Colourful Holi !

On this Joyous occasion, let me describe the significance of the Holi Festival and it's inherent meaning.

Holi is celebrated on 2 days:

1) Day 1 - Burning of a ceremonial pyre of wood and other waste materials

2) Day 2 - Playing with colours

For the background of the Prahalada and Hiranyakashyap legend, you can refer to my earlier post about the Narsimha Avatar of Lord Vishnu:

Here, before Lord Vishnu takes the form of Narasimha to kill the evil Asura Hiranyakashyap, there is an episode about the Asura King's sister Holika. This sister was very resourceful - she had the magical ability to withstand any degree of fire-burns, which meant she was invincible when it came to fire.

In order to get rid of Prahalad, Hiranyakashyap asked Holika to sit in a burning pyre with his son on her lap. Thus, he assumed Prahalad would get burnt, while Holika would come out unscathed. But to his horror, the exact opposite happened. Prahalad kept chanting Lord Vishnu's name and came out unhurt, while Holika went up in flames.

This event is celebrated each year as the 1st day of Holi, when a huge pyre consisting of wood, hay, and other items which are not useful is set up and then burnt. This scene is visible in various community centres where people gather to build up the pyre by contributing articles from their homes and then lighting it up.

This entire ritual is a symbolic rendition on the Triumph of Good over Evil. Moreover, lighting the pyre is a way to cleanse our house of old and useless things and to start afresh. The burning is done in community centres to bring about a sense of oneness.

The next day is what Holi has become most popularly associated with - the day when you play with colours. It is a fantastic sight to see people getting rid of their inhibitions and coming out in full force to drench each other in a variety of colours. The entire atmosphere looks like a huge canvas where everyone is a painter busy applying different shades of Red, Pink, Yellow, Green and Bloue onto his work of art. Dry colours (powder), Coloured Water and Small Balloons filled with water are all part of the celebratory instruments.

The entire atmosphere is ecstatic and one in which you flow with the happenings. Even the most introvert of persons tend to forget their shyness and mingle with people starting from friends right upto those whom they have never met in their lives.

Playing Holi is most famously associated with Lord Krishna, and in Mathura and Vrindavan witness beautiful scenes where Holi is played with a fervour like nowhere else.

One of the most controversial practices of the Colours Day is the consumption of Bhang. Extracted from the Cannabis plant (Cannabis indica), Bhang is an intoxicant which is known to be a stress reliever. Bhang is often associated with Lord Shiva, and his followers, the Naga Sadhus of the Kumbha Mela, are often seen smoking Cannabis.

Keeping with the free-spirited Colours Day, Bhang is mixed in Laddoos and a drink called Thandai. There is a good section that takes it willingly, though it is also a cat-and-mouse game with people trying to get others consume these intoxicating drinks without their knowledge. The results vary with the individual, with some getting mentally knocked out while others starting to blurt out hitherto hidden facts in their frenzied state.

Though Bhang (Cannabis) is banned in certain western countries, in India it is known to be a relaxant and helps those who can handle its effects. It has been part of the Ayurvedic tradition for a long time, and it is offically sold in Government Authorized shops in certain parts of India. Bhang is a big hit during the Holi season.

This day of playing with colours is what Holi has come to be most famously associated with. Metaphorically, it is an opportunity to splash colour into your plain life. Also, it a great chance to get to know new people from diverse backgrounds, or to bond up with old pals. It is a time to forget all your qualms, live life to the fullest and celebrate the joy of bonding with your friends.

Reader Mr.Koushik Roudra added the following - Holi is celebarted at the advent of spring. Burning the Holika also has a scientific significance - by burning the waste we are also creating flames, which will drive away the mosquitos. Also authentic gulal has a medical value for the skin, as in the earlier days it was made from Turmeric, Neem and other herbs.


Nikhil Mundra



Geetali Sharma said...

please move ur blog archive UP.. i'm having to scroll n look for it in the midst of all the other links.

Nikhil Mundra said...

Hi Geetali,

Thanks for the suggestion. Will rearrange the elements soon.

Nikhil Mundra


dazzlingstar said...

Hi, I appreciate your reasoning of celebrating Holi for various reasons mentioned in your writing. However, it still doesnt fullfill that question as to why celebrate on that particular day? We need to understand the true significance of the story. I strongly believe that Stories were designed so that people could be made to remember the significance of certain dates also as they could not read and write. however, with time they have taken a form of fiction. Would appreciate if you could share the true significnace of such festival stories in India. Thanks. Great reading you blog. :)