What Is Holi and How Is It Celebrated

15 March 2023
By Sarah Angela Almaden
Japanese House
Unsplash: bhupesh pal

When you think of Holi, you think of the Hindu holiday that includes a lot of singing and dancing and most likely a lot of throwing of colored powder somewhere outdoors. This vibrant celebration normally happens around March at the end of winter, on the last full moon in the lunar month of Phalguna. Holi is not only celebrated in India, but also in different countries all over the world with large Indian and Hindu communities like in the US, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Nepal, Bengali, Singapore, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Suriname, Guyana, Fiji, Mauritius, South Africa, and many more. Let’s not forget that this Festival of Colors has different regional names:

  • Hindi: होली (Holi)
  • Marathi: होळी (Holi)
  • Punjabi: ਹੋਲੀ (Holi)
  • Telugu: హోళి (Holi)
  • Kannada: ಹೋಳಿ (Holi)
  • Bengali: বসন্ত উৎসব (Spring Festival)
  • Assamese: দ’ল যাত্ৰা (Spring Festival)
  • Odia: ଦୋଳଯାତ୍ରା (Spring Festival)
  • Bhojpuri: फगुआ (Spring Festival)
  • Caribbean Hindustani: पगवा (Spring Festival)

What is Holi

Holi goes by different names like Festival of Colors, Festival of Love, and Festival of Spring. This joyous Hindu spring festival, which not only marks the end of a long winter but also honors the victory of good over evil, is one of the most important Hindu holidays. It lasts for one night and one day and begins on the evening of Purnima.

The first night is called "Holika Dahan," during which people gather and partake in religious rituals in front of a bonfire while wishing for the destruction of inner demons like how Holika was killed in the flames. The following day is known as “Rangwali Holi” and on this day people throw and cover each other in colored powder.

What is the story of Holika Dahan

In Hindu mythology, there once was a powerful and wicked king named Hiranyakashipu. He was disliked by many, but he insisted that because he believed himself to be some type of deity, everyone in his kingdom must treat and worship him as such. However, his son Prahlada who was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, the god of Preservation, refused to idolize him. As a result, Hiranyakashipu got furious about Prahlada’s defiance. He tried to kill his son for his misbehavior plenty of times, but none of his murder attempts were successful. Hiranyakashipu then decided to turn to his evil sister Holika for help because she held the extraordinary power to be fire-resistant. Holika came up with a scheme to murder Prahlada by having him join her on a pyre. But, when the fire struck, Holika tragically burned to death despite her immunity. And Prahlada was saved because he called on the help of Lord Vishnu to help him.

How is Holi celebrated

Holi lasts for one night and the following day. And on the second day, well more like the following day of the event, is when the biggest celebration takes place. On the day of Holi, family, and friends smear and throw vibrantly colored powder at one another. Sometimes, they make colorful concoctions to fill water balloons with, which they then use to drench each other. The party continues for several hours, with plenty of activities and a delicious spread of food and drinks, as well as fun music for everyone to enjoy.

Holi Colors

  • Blue: symbolizes serenity and divinity; it also depicts Krishna, one of the many Hindu deities
  • Magenta: symbolizes good health and good energy
  • Purple: symbolizes magic, wealth, and mystery
  • Orange: symbolizes strength and courage
  • Red: symbolizes love, matrimony, and fertility
  • Green: symbolizes new beginnings and nature
  • Yellow: symbolizes happiness