Holi may be the most colorful celebration ever observed; in fact, it’s called the “Festival of Colors.” Also known as Holaka or Phagwa, Holi is an annual Hindu festival celebrated on the day after the full moon in March (the Hindu month of Phalguna). During Holi, Hindus meet with friends and neighbors in public places to enjoy huge bonfires and spray each other with vibrant colored powders. It’s a party in the street that captures the wild freedom of spring itself.
Like many cultural festivities, Holi was originally an agricultural celebration. Though observed mainly by Hindus, it’s considered one of the least religious holidays in the Hindu tradition. Throwing colored powders and water into the air and at loved ones is a way to throw off the doldrums of winter and welcome the joy of a new season.
An interesting Hindu myth involving an evil king, his son, a wicked aunt, forgiveness, and the struggle between good and evil is one root of the holiday. An alternative story involves a struggle between the gods themselves. Whatever the exact origin, the Festival of Colors lives up to its name. During the 2-5 days of Holi, many social norms regarding status, age, gender, and caste are put aside. This can lead to some raucous and “off-color” language and behavior, but participants embrace the actions as part of the celebration.
A large public bonfire kicks off the first night of the first day of Holi. The fire is lit as the moon rises, and celebrants gather in the street to shout, curse, dance, or even take turns swinging images of gods. Colored powders and water are flung high into the air during evening and daytime events. The dazzling abstract “paintings” created by the powders are living, walking testaments to the delight of the season and the beauty of tradition.