Oh, the gaiety of the citizens has reached its highest point!
For, by the heaps of scented powder scattered about,
yellow with saffron-dust and imparting to the day
the appearance of the dawn…
Phalguna Purnima arrives on March 9, bringing winter and Shishir rtu to a close. Chhoti Holi will be celebrated on the same day this year.
Another name for Chhoti Holi is Holika Dahan which literally translates into ‘burning Holika’. Traditionally on this day the legend of Holika is remembered and recited. The legend says that Demon king Hirankashyap considered himself equivalent to the gods and wished for all his subjects to worship only him. However, his own son Prahlad, was an ardent devotee of Vishnu and refused to worship his own father. Hirankashyap tried to kill his son, Prahlad, multiple times but failed. Finally, he convinced his sister Holika, who had been blessed with the ability to come out of a fire unscathed, to sit in a fire with Prahlad in her lap. As Prahlad sat in Holika’s lap and the fire was lit, he meditated and invoked Vishnu, asking for his protection. So strong was his devotion that it was Prahlad who survived and Holika who perished in the fire. To celebrate this victory of good over evil Chhoti Holi is celebrated with bonfires.
This day also marks the harvesting of Rabi or winter crops and to commemorate this, people offer small pouches of wheat known as ‘gehun ki bali’ into the fire and give them to each other as gifts.
Some legends say that the tradition of Holi – the festival of colours – began in the era of Krishna when he played with colours with Radha and the Gopis. In West Bengal, Assam and Orissa this legend is acknowledged, and March 9 is celebrated as Dol Purnima. Images of Krishna are besmeared with Abeer or Gulaal (coloured powder), placed on a palanquin and then carried out in a procession amidst songs and the sound of conch shells.
In West Bengal this day is also believed to be the birthday of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a Bengali Hindu mystic. “He expounded the Vaishnava school of Bhakti yoga (meaning loving devotion to God), based on Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavad Gita. Of various forms and direct or indirect expansions of Krishna such as Lord Narasimha (Man-Lion; Krishna in mood of anger), Mahavishnu and Garbhodaksayi Vishnu respectively, he is Krishna in the mood of a devotee.” Because the birth of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (also known as Gauranga) is associated with this Purnima, it is also known as Gaura Purnima.
The day after Phalguna Purnima, on March 10 this year, we celebrate Holi and the arrival of Basant or spring. The bright colours, a range of decadent sweets and dishes, and the intoxication of bhaang – all make the celebration of Holi a vibrant and infectiously joyous one.
Unfortunately, the synthetic colours used for Holi these days are often toxic and harmful for our skin and body. Traditionally though, colours were made at home. Tesu petals and Beetroot were soaked and boiled to make red coloured water. Dried Mehendi leaves were used for Green gulaal. Dried Rose petals were used to create Red gulaal. Perhaps it is time to revive the age-old tradition of making colours at home. It could be a delightful project for children and adults alike. Or at the very least choose to buy organic colour.
When it comes to playing with colours, simple tips and tricks can really help protect your body if you are playing with synthetic colours. Use Sesame or Coconut oil to oil your hair and body a day before as the oil creates a barrier between the colour and the skin and doesn’t allow the colour to seep into the skin. After playing Holi, massage your skin gently with goat’s milk or regular milk to cleanse and hydrate your skin. The lactic acid in the milk helps remove the colour easily.
These two simple practices can help you truly enjoy the joyous spirit of Holi as we welcome the first month – Chaitra – of Basant rtu, the beguiling season of renewal and love when Kama pierces the hearts of all. Paro wishes you a Happy Holi.