Origin and History of Holi- The Festival of Colours

One of the most ‘celebrated’ festival in India, with array of colours and the richest of history, Holi is a part of India’s Heart and Soul since thousands of years. Holi (Dolyatra, Doul Jatra, Basanta-Utsav) is the Hindu festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil, good harvest, and fertility. It usually falls in the later part of February or March.

The origin and the history of Holi is as colourful and diverse as Hinduism itself.

Let’s find out the origin of this beautiful festival.

Bhagavata Purana – Vishnu


There is a symbolic history to explain why Holi is celebrated as a festival of triumph of good over evil in the honour of Hindu god Vishnu and his devotee Prahlada. King Hiranyakashipu, according to the story found in Bhagavata Purana, was the king of demonic Asuras, and had earned a boon that gave him five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons), and neither on land nor in water or air. Hiranyakashipu grew arrogant, thought he was God, and demanded that everyone worship only him.

Hiranyakashipu’s own son, Prahlada, however, disagreed. He was and remained devoted to Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu. He subjected Prahlada to cruel punishments, none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika, Prahlada’s evil aunt, tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada was not. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada, who survived while Holika burned. Vishnu, the god who appears as an avatar to restore Dharma in Hindu beliefs, took the form of Narasimha – half human and half lion (which is neither a human nor an animal), at dusk (when it was neither day nor night), took Hiranyakashyapu at a doorstep (which was neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (which was neither land, water nor air), and then eviscerated and killed the king with his lion claws (which were neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon).

The Holika bonfire and Holi signifies the celebration of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, and of the fire that burned Holika.

Kama and Rati

Among other Hindu traditions, the significance of Holi is linked to Shiva in yoga and deep meditation, goddess Parvati wanting to bring back Shiva into the world, seeks help from the Hindu god of love called Kamadeva on Vasant Panchami. The love god shoots arrows at Shiva, the yogi opens his third eye and burns Kama to ashes. This upsets both Kama’s wife Rati (Kamadevi) and his own wife Parvati. Rati performs her own meditative asceticism for forty days, upon which Shiva understands, forgives out of compassion and restores the god of love. This return of the god of love, is celebrated on the 40th day after Vasant Panchami festival as Holi. Kama and its significance to Holi has many variant forms, particularly in South India.

Pre-Mahabharata- Krishna

In the Braj region of India, where the Hindu deity Krishna grew up, Holi is celebrated until Rang Panchmi in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as a festival of love. As a baby, Krishna developed his characteristic dark skin colour because the she-demon Putana poisoned him with her breast milk. In his youth, Krishna despaired whether the fair-skinned Radha would like him because of his dark skin colour. His mother, tired of his desperation, asks him to approach Radha and ask her to colour his face in any colour she wanted. This she did, and Radha and Krishna became a couple. Ever since, the playful colouring of Radha and Krishna’s face has been commemorated as Holi.

Beyond India, these citations help to explain the significance of Holi (Phagwah) are common in some Caribbean and South American communities of Indian origin such as Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. It is also celebrated with great fervour in Mauritius.

Origin Source: Wiki

Was it worth reading? Let us know.