HOLI: Let’s Play With Colors!
Among hundreds of festival celebrated in Nepal the one everyone will easily recognize is the festival of colors that is Holi. Everyone having a ton of fun, throwing lolas (water balloons), smearing different colors at each other and being covered in multi-colors from head to toe to the point where you cannot even recognize yourself, laughing, smiling and enjoying every minute of it is the spirit of this festival. Holi festival is one of the liveliest festivals in Nepal celebrated mainly by the Hindu community.
Holi is celebrated on the day of full moon in the month of Falgun (March, sometimes February) which is the night of Krishna Chaturdarshi according to lunar calendar, so the name Fagu Purnima, where Fagu means Falgun and Purnima means Full Moon. The festival marks as the official welcoming of the spring.
Legend has it, Holi is celebrated to commemorate the day of triumph over evil. As the story goes, demon King Hiranyakasyap’s son was a true devotee of Lord Vishnu, his enemy. After failing miserably to make his son stop worshiping Lord Vishnu, he decided to kill his own son. For this task, he called upon Holika, his sister who was blessed by Lord Bramha to never be burned or hurt by fire. This gift of hers protects her from fire but cannot be used for evil which she was warned about. Disregarding the warning, she put Prahlad, her nephew on her lap and sat on the pile of wood which was seconds later set ablaze. In the end, Holika was burned alive while Prahlad who was praying to Lord Vishnu even in the face of death escaped unscathed. So the night before the holi there is the tradition of having bonfire calling it Holika Dahan in remembrance of this very event.
Another legend tells the story of how Putana, a female demon who lost her life when she unsuccessfully tried to kill Lord Krishna (incarnation of Lord Vishnu) when he was just a baby by feeding him poisonous milk having received royal order from King Kansa who was the maternal uncle of Lord Krishna. Baby Krishna defeating the demon is also considered as the reason why Holi is celebrated.
The other version of this story says that because he was drank poisoned milk, his skin turned dark blue (Lord Krishna’s characteristic trait. In his youth, he began to worry if Radha and other gopikas/gopinis (young village girls) who were all of fair skin wouldn’t love him because of his dark blue skin, so he told his mother Yashoda about this, she suggested he color all the girls with any color he liked and this is what he did. The girls found his antics to be lovable and enjoyed being colored and in return they too sprayed colors on him, which is now celebrated as the festival of Holi.
Recently in Nepal, the celebration for the week long festival starts beforehand sometimes 15 days early leading up to the main day of Holi. The festival starts officially after the Chir, a bamboo strapped with long stretch of colorful clothes is put up at the Basantapur Durbar Square (also known as Kathmandu Durbar Square) in Kathmandu.
When Lord Krishna (incarnation of Lord Vishnu) was a teen, he played a prank on the gopinis by stealing their clothes and hanging them on the tree while they were busy bathing in the river. Chir represents the tree and the pieces of long clothes tied on top of the chir are symbolic of the clothes of gopinis and is supposed to bring good luck in the community when it is put up for display and worshiped. It is dismantled at the end of the festival.
There is a national holiday declared for everyone in Nepal to the occasion of Holi. This festival is observed the next day in Terai after the rest of Nepal has already celebrated it.
Holi is the festival where people play with water, abeer (vermillion powder) and colors with family, friends and relatives in a playful environment. It is said that even the enemies become friends on this day and friends who have become estranged from one another find their way back to each other and become close again. Everyone forgets their background whether they are rich or poor, belong to different ethnic communities, you become one and celebrate the festival of joy and colors together.
This vibrant festival of Hindu is celebrated with lolas – small balloons filled with either plain or colored tap water and different colors. People get up early in prepare for the day by filling up balloons, clear small plastic bags and water guns with colored water. They start the festivity by going on the rooftops and start throwing them at anyone on other rooftops. Sometimes the battle royale begins at 7 in the morning in Kathmandu where terraces are filled with kids and young boys and girls ready with their ammos of water grenades targeting each other and shouting and cheering when they manage to hit someone. Many of them throw buckets full of water at anyone who passes by in the alleys and roads near the houses. And those who get dowsed enjoy it, laugh it off and don’t complain.
For the past few years however, people have seen some unpleasant aspects of Holi in Nepal where some hooligans put colors on people (locals and foreigners) forcibly who don’t want to be colored, throwing lolas from a far or from the rooftops targeting young beautiful girls weeks ahead of Holi (which hurts pretty dam hard when you are the receiver of a direct hit!) drinking intoxicants and misbehaving in public, harassing strangers to play Holi with you, using artificial and permanent colors which don’t come off that easily and causes serious damage to the skin, using dirty water to throw at people on their way to work or anywhere for that matter. But still, the government and the communities are taking measures to ensure these nasty sides that have emerged is curbed and put a stop to, for public safety and social order and, for everyone to enjoy the holiday who may or may not be playing with the colors.
In recent years, the way Holi festival is celebrated is changing as there are more and more Holi events being organized by social medias like television, radio and event management companies (I think it’s for self and brand promotion more than anything else) at different locations which are open to public but you need to buy tickets. They’ve got concerts, performances of all sorts, music, foods, drinks and much more which people seem to enjoy a lot (FYI, I don’t fall into that category).
Before Holi festival used to be celebrated among family, friends and acquaintances at home, where friends used to gather in one house or start visiting and collecting friends on their way to a certain local area to play together in company of close friends. There were many small gatherings in different parts of the town where the communities celebrate Holi among each other and the whole atmosphere was vivacious and the happiness of people playing contagious.
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Doesn’t matter how you celebrate Holi, with close few friends or in a huge crowd of complete strangers, the essence of Holi hasn’t changed. It still is to bring people closer together and to spread the happiness all around and simply have a good time. So, this organized chaos of a festival absolutely should not be missed by anyone who loves to have fun. When you see people with faces beyond recognition because of colors on them giving an infectious huge smile and saying Happy Holi, you seriously couldn’t stop yourself from joining in the fun and wishing everyone a very HAPPY HOLI!!!