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Holi - The Hindu Festival of Colors

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, is one of the most popular and widely observed Hindu holidays. The springtime festival, which is celebrated throughout India, Nepal and Sir Lanka, commemorates the triumph of good over evil in Hindu mythology.

In today's celebrations of Holi, the rigid social and religious boundaries in Hindu societies are general disregarded; instead of formality, the focus of Holi is on having fun! Holi brings people across all casts, classes and creeds united in a celebration of the diversity -- the colors -- of brotherhood.

Also called Holaka or Phagwa, the beginnings of Holi can be traced back to a time at least several centuries BCE. Today Holi commemorates several events in Hindu mythology. It is a celebration where social and religious boundaries are generally disregarded - where the focus is on having a good time.

Holi, the Festival of Colors, is perhaps best understood as a celebration of the colors of unity and brotherhood - as an opportunity to forget differences. The festival does not recognize distinctions of cast, class, creed, color, status or sex. Holi is about bringing people together: employees and employers, men and women, rich and poor, young and old.

While there are regional variations, Holi is typically celebrated for two days beginning on the full moon of the lunar month Phalguna.

In most communities the festival actually begins on the eve of Holi. Public bonfires made up of dried leaves and branches are lit. Metaphorically, the fires signify the destruction of evil - the burning of the "Holika". The heat from the fires serve as reminders that winter is behind and that hot summer days are ahead.

The following morning the central ritual of Holi, the Festival of Colors, begins. Streets fill with people running, shouting and laughing as each smears colored power on the other. With the aid of pichkaris, shaped like giant syringes, each is soon drenched in colored and scented water. Soon all have lost the appearance of their original selves beneath the flood of colors and a sort of universal brotherhood prevails.

Traditional Greeting: During this festival, people typically hug and wish each other "Happy Holi".

Most of the studies we've seen place the total number of Hindus somewhere between 850 million and one billion - making Hinduism the third largest religion in the world. It is the predominant religion of the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism is often referred to as Sanatana Dharma, a Sanskrit phrase meaning "the eternal law", by its adherents.

photo credit: Holi street scene via flickr

Holi Picture Slideshow - beautiful and stunning photos of Holi celebrations

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