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Spring is in the air

Holi is the festival of fun, colour and celebrations.

Reuters

Fill your pichkari (water gun) with coloured water and spray her! That's what the festival of Holi is all about — colours, fun, celebrating and feasting on delicious eats like gujiyas.

Holi is a festival of spring, similar to an ancient one known as Vasantotsav.

It is also connected with the legend of Prahlad, the son of the asura king Hiranyakashyapa. Prahlad was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyapa had gained power by performing penance and insisted that everyone worship him. Prahlad refused and the king was furious. He asked his sister Holika, who was immune to fire, to get rid of him. Holika took Prahlad on her lap and sat on a burning pyre. But Holika was destroyed, and Prahlad was left untouched. Lord Vishnu had protected him.

A few days before Holi people pile up wood and dried leaves by the roadside. The night before Holi the bonfire is lit and people worship there. Some roast barley seeds in a pot, while others carry embers and ashes home as it is considered auspicious. This fire is symbolic of the burning of Holika, and the destruction of evil.

Holi is celebrated on the full moon day of the month of Phalgun and falls in March. In some parts of the country the festivities carry on for a week. On Dhulendi friends and neighbours spray colour on one another. It is believed that Lord Krishna (being the incarnation of Lord Vishnu) popularised Holi by mischievously throwing coloured water on the girls in his village. Many old paintings and sculptures depict him playing Holi with his beloved Radha and the gopis. Traditional songs like phag, hori and rasiya describe the festivities at Brijbhumi, where he lived.

Different customs are observed during Holi. In Barsana, Brijbhumi, there is "lathmaar Holi". Women arm themselves with long sticks and beat the men from Nandgaon (well-padded for protection) who try to raise their flag on the Sri Radhikaji temple. Those who are captured are made to wear women's clothes and dance. Similarly in Gujarat a game called Gol-Gadhera is played. Women grab scarves from men and put lumps of jaggery in them and tie them to trees. The men have to get their scarves back.

Another legend connects Holi with the destruction of Kamadeva, the god of love, when Lord Shiva opened his third eye. So in Tamil Nadu it is celebrated as Kaman Pandigai or the festival of Kamadeva, and people dress up as Kamadev and his wife Rathi.

Holi is a festival enjoyed by all. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Awadh was known for celebrating Holi. He would put a dholak around his neck and go out to throw colour on his people. At the raaslila in his court he would play the part of Lord Krishna.

In earlier times, people used vegetable dyes like those from the tesu or palash flower which gave a lovely yellow colour and was supposed to be good for the skin. The chemical colours now used can be harmful.

So this Holi use natural colours made from tesu flowers, pomegranate peel and beetroot.

DEEPA AGARWAL

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