Holi is an ancient festival, which is referred to in the 7th century Sanskrit drama, Ratnaval.
"Witness the beauty of the great cupid festival, which excites curiosity as the townsfolk are dancing at the touch of brownish water thrown from squirt-guns. They are seized by pretty women while all along the roads the air is filled with singing and drum-beating. Everything is colored yellowish red and rendered dusty by the heaps of scented powder blown all over."-
Ratnaval, 7th century drama
The Legend of Prahalad and HolikaHolika was a female demon, and the sister of Hiranyakashyap, the demon king. Hiranyakashyap considered himself ruler of the Universe, and higher than all the gods.
Prahalad was the king's son. His father hated him because Prahalad was a faithful devotee of the god Vishnu.
One day the king asked him "Who is the greatest, God or I?"
"God is," said the son, "you are only a king."
The king was furious and decided to murder his son.
But the king's attempts at murder didn't work too well. Prahalad survived being thrown over a cliff, being trampled by elephants, bitten by snakes, and attacked by soldiers. So the king asked his sister, Holika, to kill the boy. Holika seized Prahalad and sat in the middle of a fire with the boy on her lap. Holika had been given a magic power by the gods that made her immune to fire, so she thought this was a pretty good plan, and Prahalad would burn to death while she remained cool. But it's never wise to take gods' gifts for granted! Because Holika was using her gift to do something evil, her power vanished and she was burned to ashes. Prahalad stayed true to his God, Vishnu, and sat praying in the lap of his demon aunt. Vishnu protected him, and Prahalad survived.
Shortly afterwards, Vishnu killed King Hiranyakashyap and Prahad ruled as a wise king in his father's place.
MoralThe moral of the story is that good always wins over evil, and those who seek to torment the faithful will be destroyed.
To celebrate the story, large bonfires are burned during Holi. In many parts of India, a dummy of Holika is burned in the fire.
Best Places to Celebrate Holi in India
1/ Barsana: Holi with Sticks
|Holi with sticks|
Indian men don't always rule the roost! The women of Barsana village near Mathura in Uttar Pradesh beat up men from the neighboring Nandgaon village with sticks, in what's known as Lathmar Holi celebrations. Lathmar Holi takes place around a week before the main day of Holi. In 2014, it will happen on March 10. The following day, the celebrations move to Nandgaon village. It's worth getting to Barsana a couple of days in advance of Lathmar Holi so that you can also experience Laddoo Holi festivities there. Sweets are thrown around and spiritual songs related to Radha and Krishna are sung.
2/ Mathura and Vrindavan: Traditional Holi
|Traditional Holi in Mathura|
Holi celebrations get underway on Vasant Panchami (end of winter), 40 days before the main Holi day, in the temple towns of Mathura and Vrindavan, four hours from Delhi. Mathura is where Lord Krishna was born, while Vrindavan was where he spent his childhood. The Sri Krishna Janmastham in Mathura holds a renowned show in the week before Holi. The five day celebration at Shri Banke Bihari Mandir in Vrindavan are also legendary.
3/Delhi: Modern Holi
|Today's urban Holi dancing|
Holi tends to be a rowdy affair in Delhi. If you're staying anywhere near Paharganj, be prepared to be covered in color by shopkeepers and children alike if you step outside. If you can, try and get tickets to the Holi Cow festival. A festival of color, music and madness, it's is held a short distance outside the city. The environment is safe, and non-toxic colors are provided, along with bhang lassis, street food, and sprinklers to get everyone in the mood. Both DJs and bands perform. Plenty of expats, as well as locals, attend.
4/ Shantiniketan, West Bengal: Cultural Holi
|Holi in Shantiniketan West Bengal|
The celebration of Holi as Vasanta Utsav (Spring Festival) in Shantiniketan was started by famous Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. Inspired by spring and the colors of Holi, he introduced the occasion as an annual event in his Vishva Bharati University there. Students dress up in spring colors and put on a huge cultural program for visitors, including dances to Tagore's songs. This is followed by the usual throwing of colors. Vasanta Utsav has become a cherished part of Bengali history and culture, and it attracts numerous foreign tourists. Note that festivities happen a day earlier than the given date for Holi in other parts of India.
5/Purulia, West Bengal: Folk Holi
|Folk Holi in Purulia West Bengal|
A three day folk festival takes place in the Purulia district of West Bengal. It runs in the lead up to Holi and on the actual day. You'll get to sing and play Holi with the locals, as well as enjoy a wide variety of unique folk art. This includes the remarkable Chau dance, Darbari Jhumur, Natua dance, and songs of West Bengal's wandering Baul musicians. What makes the festival special is that it's organized by the villagers as a way of helping sustain themselves. The location is around 5-6 hours by train from Kolkata, or transport in private vehicles can be arranged. Accommodation is provided in tents and there are portable toilets as well.
6/ Jaipur: Holi and Elephants
|Holi and elephants in Jaipur festival|
An elephant festival kicks off Holi celebrations in Jaipur every year on Holi eve. Elephant parades, elephant beauty contests, folk dances, and tug-of-war between elephants, locals and foreigners are all regular events. It makes Holi extra fun! Note: this event was canceled last year due to pressure from animal rights groups and may be canceled again this year. If this happens, it may take place without the presence of elephants. Source for some of the content and images
Colors of Holi and Ecstasy of Bhang (Cannabis)
Tradition of Bhang
Is associated with Lord Shiva, bhang has now become synonymous with Holi. To the extent that bhang drinks have now become an official Holi drink.
Culled from the leaves and buds of cannabis - the very intoxicating bhang helps to escalate the spirit of Holi - a festival which does not recognize any restrictions. Lip smacking thandai, pakoras and vadas, all having bhang as a very essential ingredient, are savored by all on the day.
A Brief History of Bhang
Bhang was first used as an intoxicant in India around 1000 BC and soon became an integral part of Hindu culture. In the ancient text Artharvaveda, Bhang is described as a beneficial herb that "releases anxiety". Bhang preparations were sacred to the Gods, particularly Shiva. One of Shiva's epithets was "Lord of Bhang" as he is said to have discovered the transcendental properties of the mixture. In imitation of Shiva, many sadhus use Bhang to boost meditation and achieve transcendental states.
For many, bhang is believed to be fun booster. While there are a few government authorized shops in Delhi and other parts of India that sell bhang, sweet shops and paan shops too sell bhang during Holi. To add a dash of fun into their festive preparations, a lot of people whip up bhang-based dishes at home, which range from jalebis to Pani Puri to thandai, pakora, ladies, cafes, sorbet and even papads.
How’s bhang made
The flowers (buds) and leaves of female cannabis are ground into a paste with the help of mortar and pestle. Ghee, milk and spices are added to this mix. That’s how the bhang base is made; it could be used for making thandai, bhang Lassi, Hawaii, Laddoo or pakoras.
What’s good about it
Ayurveda has made use of bhang’s medicinal properties since ages. It helps release anxiety and gives a sound, peaceful sleep, and is also believed to fight depression.
It is also a cure for ailments such as fever, dysentery, arthritis, sunstroke, nausea and vomiting, rigid muscles and indigestion.
Bhang overdose can lead to serious health complications. Those who have too much bhang suffer from temporary psychosis, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Never ever mix bang with alcohol. Youngsters often do this for an extra kick, but it can have fatal results.
Tackle side effects
- Herbal cure: Have a cup of herbal tea such as rose tea or jasmine tea; it will reduce the headache and help counter the effects of bhang.
- Lemon water: Lemon water is a great source of antioxidants and vitamin C; it helps prevent the formation of free radicals.
- Hydrate your system: Have lots of water, as it will flush out intoxicants from your body. Dehydration makes the hangover worse.
As Bhang has served such an important role in India's culture and spiritual practices it would be impossible to criminalize cannabis completely in the country.
Cultivation of cannabis is government regulated, and illegal without a government permit. Sale of bhang is also government regulated and illegal without a permit.
In Pan Shops as Goli and in Ayurvedic stores, all across North India
Updated post of 07/03/2012