Every year on the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalguna, between the end of February and the middle of March, villages across India become awash in color. During this time, men and women, rich and poor, old and young, and locals and visitors come together for the joyous Hindu celebration of “Holi.”
While each town has its own customs, such as lighting bonfires, eating sweets, or dancing to traditional folk music, one part of the festival is universal – everyone gets doused with water and brightly colored powders – giving the day its nickname of the “Festival of Colors.”
“Holi” celebrates a story from Hindu mythology about Prahlada, a prince who worshipped the Hindu god, Vishnu. Prahlada, punished by his father and aunt for having a strong religious faith, was forced to sit in the center of a bonfire. However, Vishnu protected the prince from burning, showing that good triumphs over evil. Bonfires are still a part of the holiday today.
Legend has it that the tradition of throwing colors comes from another myth – the love story between Radha and Krishna. Krishna is the Hindu god often shown with blue skin. He was upset at his lover’s pale skin, so his mother suggested he smear Radha’s skin with paint. It is believed that this is why people cover their loved ones (and strangers in the street) with colors every “Holi.”
In addition to its mythological background, the festival is also known to celebrate the changing of the seasons. “Holi” marks the transition from dark and cold winters to warmer spring days. The colored powders, also known as gulal, represent the bright spring colors that will emerge soon.
The “Festival of Colors,” or “Festival of love,” is just one day of the “Holi” celebrations, often the second day. In some regions of India, “Holi” festivities last for a week or as long as 16 days. “Holi” is a national holiday across India.