In the western hemisphere, it is said that, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb", a proverb that alludes to the ending of winter. Although due to the effects of climate change, this is not always the case anymore. In an Indian context, the exuberant festival of 'Holi' marks the symbolic arrival of spring and end to the winter months. This festival has deep mythological origins, but at the end of the day, this mythology is just your good old, 'Triumph of good over evil' story.
There are different versions of the mythology surrounding Holi. One of the most popular stories, is the legend of Holika and Prahlad, from Hindu mythology. The gods Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (aka Shiva) are a divine trinity and the most important figures in the Hindu pantheon. Hiranyakashyap is a central character to this mythological fable. To the uninitiated, this name may seem like quite a mouthful, so we'll break it down into syllables, for easier understanding, 'hir-run-ya-kash-yap'.
According to the tale, Hiranyakashyap was a powerful demon lord, who impressed Lord Bramha with his devotion. Lord Bramha thus rewarded Hiranyakashyap with powers of near immortality. This great power however, did not come with great wisdom. Hiranyakashyap used his blessing to reign down tyranny and proceeded to wage war on both man and gods alike, proclaiming that he alone should be worshipped, in place of all other deities.
A son named, Prahlad was later born to Hiranyakashyap. Much to Hiranyakashyap's dismay, Prahlad grew up to become a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu was enraged by this act of defiance and he commanded Prahlad's sister, Holika to kill Prahlad by taking him into a fire. Holika herself was immune to the effects of fire, by virtue of the blessings that she was bestowed.
In the event, Holika went through with the plan, however Lord Vishnu's grace led to Prahlad emerging unscathed, while Holika was burnt to ashes. The legend of Prahlad and Holika thus lives on in the form of the festival of Holi. The celebrations involve the burning of effigies of Holika in a bonfire, on the eve of the main festival day. Offerings of coconuts, flowers and other items are also made to this fire, around which people gather to sing and dance. These activities mark the eve of Holi and this day is referred to as, 'Chhoti Holi' or 'Holika Dahan'.
On the main day of the festival, people smear each other with colourful powders, signifying the colours of spring and the joys of life. However drenching others in water dissolved colours, is an activity that seems to bring most people the greatest joy. The modus of operandi usually involves tipping bucket loads of the stuff on to any passers-by, who might find themselves within striking range of your balcony. Bombarding people with water filled balloons from a higher elevation, is another favourite that never seems to grow old. You might wonder why someone would dare to venture outside, in the face of such risks. Well, meeting up with friends and collectively engaging in the day's revelry, is really what Holi is about.
When is Holi Celebrated?
The Hindu calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which means it is based on both the phases of the Moon and the movement of the Sun. The Hindu calendar consists of twelve lunar months, with each month beginning and ending with the new moon. The twelve Hindu months and their corresponding Gregorian calendar months are:
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The Hindu months are named after the 'Nakshatras' or constellations (lunar mansions), which are a part of ancient Hindu astronomy. All important Hindu festivals, rituals and auspicious dates are tied to a particular month, as is the case with Holi. Also the dates for almost all Hindu festivals follow the lunar cycle. Hence, prior to Holi there will be 'Shivrathri', which is the main day for the worship of Lord Shiva and this day is on the darkest night of the waning Moon. Holi is then followed by a nine day 'Navratra' period, which is considered to be one of the most auspicious times of the year and this commences from the first day, of a waxing Moon phase. Holi itself is celebrated annually, before the 'Navratras', on the full moon day in the Hindu month of Phalgun, which falls during the late February to early March period.
In 2023, the main Holi event falls on Tuesday, 7th of March. The period for the festival commences after sundown on Monday, March 6, the 65th day of 2023. This is the night of the full moon. Holi 2023 will end at sundown, on Tuesday, March 7, after which the first day of the waning Moon begins. You will find references to March 8, as being the main day for celebrating Holi this year. This is also correct, as this takes into account an inauspicious period of 'Bhadra' that occurs on March 6. The 8th of March is in fact the day on which the general public will engage in the above described, colourful festivities. However, March 7 is the appropriate day to take advantage of the astrological and spiritual auspiciousness of the Holi period, in 2023.
Astrological Significance of Holi
The festival of Holi has an important astrological-spiritual relevance. According to Hindu astrology, Holi is celebrated during the transition period between winter and spring, which is known as the vernal equinox. This transition is considered to be a powerful time for spiritual transformation, renewal, and rejuvenation.
The lunar cycle during which Holi falls is a time when the Moon is said to be in its exalted state and its energy is believed to be at its highest. Therefore, the festival is seen as an auspicious time to perform spiritual practices, such as meditation, chanting, acquiring and creating amulets and the offering of prayers.
In addition to the astrological significance, there is also a cultural aspect to the timing of Holi. The festival is celebrated at a time when the winter season is coming to an end and spring is about to commence. The spring season is associated with new beginnings, growth, and prosperity. Therefore, Holi is seen as a time to let go of the past and embrace the new beginnings and opportunities that the coming season brings. Overall, Holi is a festival that celebrates the spiritual and cultural transitioning of winter to spring and the auspicious timing of the festival is believed to enhance the power of spiritual practices and bring positive energy and blessings.
The important features of this chart are that Venus and Jupiter both occupy the zodiac sign of Pisces. This is something that you may have observed in the night sky, as both planets are prominently visible in close proximity, at the present time. Venus is thus exalted and Jupiter is favourably placed in its own zodiac sign.
This is a very favourable and auspicious alignment as Venus and Jupiter are the guiding mentors to the two planetary groups. That is in astrology, the planets are classified as belonging to two distinct groups, based on their characteristics and qualities. The two groups are headed by the Sun and Saturn, respectively, but their spiritual guides are Jupiter and Venus. As both the guides are harmoniously placed in the same zodiac sign, all the planets presently emit an essentially positive energy.
In addition to the favourable influence of Jupiter and Venus, the planets Saturn, the Moon, Mars, 'Rahu' and 'Ketu' are all placed in zodiac signs that further enhance this positive energy. This means that this is not only a generally auspicious day to undertake new ventures, but that all people of the zodiac signs listed below will enjoy a day of harmony. They will also find that most of their short-term plans meet with success or that the present time is one of reasonable good fortune:
For the remaining zodiac signs of Aries ♈, Gemini ♊, Leo ♌ and Virgo ♍, the present time is not one of ill fortune either. The only downer for them is that they may experience some mixed fortune, as there are slightly contradictory influences on these signs.
Irrespective of the influence on your sign, this will be a very favourable time to get a 'Crystal Shri Yantra Locket' amulet for attracting wealth and all manner of good fortune.
Mythology Associated with the Colours of Holi
As explained, the main story surrounding Holi relates to the burning of 'Holika', which doesn't explain how Holi became quite so colourful, both metaphorically and literally speaking. This relates to the other mythologies associated with this occasion, particularly the legend of Radha and Krishan.
Lord Krishan (anglicised as Krishna), is an incarnation (avtar) of Lord Vishnu and was born on earth many millennia after the time of 'Hiranyakashyap' and Radha was his consort. According to the legend, Krishan was of a dark complexion and jealous of Radha's fairer skin. Krishan's mother suggested that he apply colours to Radha's face on Holi, to darken her complexion. Since then, practice of applying colours to other people's faces on the occasion of Holi, became the standard.
Other Mythologies about Holi
The Legend of Kamdev:
Another legend associated with Holi, is the story of Kamdev, the Hindu god of love. Kamdev is reputed to have shot an arrow at Lord Shiva in a bid to awaken Shiva's love for his consort, Parvati. However, Shiva was so enraged by the act that he promptly burnt poor ol' Kamdev to a cinder, with his third eye. The ever benevolent Shiva restored the now smoldering Kamdev back to life, at the request of Kamdev's wife, Rati. The story being a reminder to one and all of the power of love, the importance of forgiveness and, to above all, use your third eye responsibly!
Other Names for Holi
Holi is perhaps more prevalent in Northern India, than in other parts. Here it can also be referred to as, Rangwali Holi, which means 'Festival of Colours' and also 'Phagwah', which is derived from the name of the Hindu month Phalgun. It is also known by various other names in different parts of India, these mainly being:
'Dol Jatra': In the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, the festival is known as 'Dol Jatra', which is celebrated by carrying idols of Radha and Krishan on a palanquin, whilst singing and dancing.
'Basant Utsav': Also in the state of West Bengal, there is the festival of Basant Utsav, which means 'Spring Festival'. But, don't confuse this with images of the American tradition of, 'Spring Break'. The Indian celebration generally involves cultural events, music and dance performances.
'Shigmo' or 'Shimga': In the western Indian states of Goa and parts of Maharashtra, the festival is known as Shigmo or Shimga, which is celebrated with colourful processions and folk songs and dances.
Lathmar Holi: In some parts of north India, particularly in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the festival is celebrated with a unique tradition called Lathmar Holi, in which women beat men with sticks. No, this is not a part of the feminist movement, but is a symbolic beating of Holika.
Festivals Similar to Holi in Other Cultures
If all this colour rioting seems a bit odd, just remember that there are several festivals in other cultures around the world that share similar practices with that of Holi. These festivals may not share the same religious or cultural roots as Holi, but they do share the common theme of joy, celebration and the coming together of communities.
La Tomatina: La Tomatina is a festival celebrated in the town of Bunol in Spain and this involves the throwing of tomatoes. This is somewhat akin to the throwing of colours during Holi.
Songkran: Songkran is a traditional New Year's Day festival in Thailand, which is celebrated with people splashing water on each other. It is similar to the dousing that is administered on Holi, but without the colour.
Chaharshanbe Suri: Chaharshanbe Suri is a Persian festival celebrated on the last Wednesday of the Persian year. This festival involves jumping over fires, something that is similar to the bonfires lit on Holi eve.
Carnival: Carnival is a festival celebrated in several countries around the world, including Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and Italy. It is marked by parades, street parties and the use of masks and costumes. It is similar to the spirit of celebration and joy that is seen during Holi.
Dia de los Muertos: As explained on our article about Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, or the 'Day of the Dead' is a Mexican festival celebrated to honour the deceased. It is marked by the use of bright colours, costumes and traditional music. It is similar to the vibrancy and colourful celebrations during Holi.
While there are a few events and celebrations that share some similarities with Holi, nothing quite compares with a festival that can, for a whole day, put on hold a country of over 1.4 billion people. This is not your ordinary national holiday, for all businesses, big or small and including national newspapers have no option but to shut shop. It is also a day that may not be everyone's cup of tea. For anyone who wishes to escape participation, the only option is to lock themselves up within the confines of their home, till sanity returns in the evening. The history, energy, astrological and spiritual significance and above all, sheer scale of this event make it an experience like no other.
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