Indians around the globe come together and celebrate every Purnima (full moon) of Phagun, the 12th month of the Hindu calendar. We throw colored powder, dance and wish each other, “Happy Holi!”
Holi is a time to celebrate the coming of spring. While India is a large country with various ethnic groups, Holi is a time when everyone comes together. With everyone having the same multi-colored appearance, they forget their differences. Strangers celebrate alongside one another, and people mend broken relationships.
As a child, I didn’t understand why Holi was celebrated; I didn’t understand why people would rub powder on each other. I was even annoyed when people I didn’t know would throw color into my hair or cheeks. I simply went to celebrations to tag along with my parents. But as I grew older, I realized the celebration wasn’t about the colors or the dancing— to me, surrounding myself with people with smiles plastered on their face chasing each other with powder, dancing to loud music and filling the air with their hearty laughter never fails to raise my spirits. Holi has become one of my favorite holidays, and I look forward to celebrating every year!
There are many stories attempting to explain the origin of Holi. Amongst the popular ones is the story of King Hiranyakashipu, a demon king living in India, who wanted to kill the gods. He banned worship of gods within his village, and his people suffered under his cruel wrath.
However, King Hiranyakashipu’s son, Prahlada, was a dedicated devotee to the gods and would sneak out into the forest to worship. When King Hiranyakashipu found out, he was furious. He vowed to kill his son. He dropped his son from a cliff, but his son called on the gods to protect him.
The king then locked Prahlada in a room full of deadly snakes, but once again Prahlada called on the gods and survived. Hiranyakashipu then asked his sister, Holika, for help. Holika had been gifted with the power of being invulnerable to fire. She decided to hold Prahlada in her lap while she sat in a fire that Hiranyakashipu had lit. But instead of Prahlada, Holika burned to death — the gods had revoked her boon because she misused it.
Vishnu, the god of preservation, then killed King Hiranyakashipu. Holi is named after Holika, and the colored powder thrown into the air represents the flame that Holika died in.
Another popular story to explain the origin of Holi is that of Lord Krishna. Krishna is the god of protection, love and compassion. Krishna is also the eighth and most powerful reincarnation of Lord Vishnu. Krishna has dark blue skin and would complain to his foster mother about his dark complexion in comparison to the light complexion of his friend, Radha. His foster mom, Yashoda, suggested that he splash blue paint on Radha’s skin, thus creating the tradition of throwing colors on each other.
While people believe in different stories and celebrate for different reasons, Holi is no doubt a festival for those with differences to come together to celebrate each other.
A version of this story also aired on KQED on March 9, 2023.