What is Holi? : Holi, or Holli is a spring religious festival celebrated by Hindus. It is primarily observed in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and countries with large Indic diaspora populations, such as Suriname, Malaysia, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad, United Kingdom, United States, Mauritius, and Fiji. In West Bengal and Orissa of India it is known as Dolyatra (Doul Jatra), or Basanta-Utsav (“spring festival”), . The most celebrated Holi is that of the Braj region, in locations connected to the Lord Krishna: Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandagaon, and Barsana. These places have become tourist destinations during the festive season of Holi, which lasts here to up to sixteen days.

Significance of Holi: In Vaishnava Theology, Hiranyakashipu is the great king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after which he had demanded that he not be killed “during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra”. Consequently, he grew arrogant and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping Gods and start praying him. Despite this, Hiranyakashipu’s own son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu.

In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Lord Vishnu. He was poisoned but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, poisonous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu’s attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre on the lap of his demoness sister, Holika, who could not die because she also had a boon which would prevent fire from burning her.

Prahlada readily accepted his father’s orders, and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed, the burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi. Radha and the Gopis celebrating Holi, with accompaniment of music instruments Later Lord Vishnu came in the form of a Narasimha (who is half-man and half-lion) and killed Hiranyakashipu at dusk (which was neither day nor night), on the steps of the porch of his house (which was neither inside the house nor outside) by restraining him on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth) and mauling him with his claws (which are neither astra nor shastra).

In Vrindavan and Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi) in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the gopis here. Krishna is believed to have complained to his mother about the contrast between his dark skin complexion and Radha’s (Shakti or energy that drives the world) fair skin complexion. Krishna’s mother decided to apply colour to Radha’s face. The celebrations officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love. There is alternative story detailing the origin of Holi. This story is about Kamadeva, a god of love. Kama’s body was destroyed when he shot his weapon at Shiva in order to disrupt his meditation and help Parvati to marry Shiva. Shiva then opened his third eye, the gaze of which was so powerful that Kama’s body was reduced to ashes. For the sake of Kama’s wife Rati (passion), Shiva restored him, but only as a mental image, representing the true emotional and spiritual state of love rather than physical lust.

The Holi bonfire is believed to be celebrated in commemoration of this event. On March 8th 2012 today along with Holi, Vaisnavas all our the world were celebrating Gaur Purnima festival that was the divine appearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.Gaura Purnima means “Golden Full Moon”, a reference to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. His followers spend this festival fasting and chanting congregationally, then at moonrise a feast is enjoyed by all. This festival is celebrated by Gaudiya Vaishnavas as part of Sri Navadvipa-mandala Parikrama.

Traditional Holi: The spring season, during which the weather changes, is believed to cause viral fever and cold. The playful throwing of natural coloured powders has a medicinal significance: the colours are traditionally made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors. A special drink called thandai is prepared (commonly made of almonds, pistachios, rose petals, etc.), sometimes containing bhang (Cannabis indica). For wet colours, traditional flowers of Palash are boiled and soaked in water over night to produced yellow coloured water, which also had medicinal properties. Unfortunately the commercial aspect of celebration has led to an increase in the use of synthetic colours which, in some cases, may be toxic.

Modern issues Synthetic colors: Their investigation found some toxic chemicals with some potentially severe health impacts. The black powders were found to contain lead oxide which can result in renal failure. Two colors were found to be carcinogenic: silver, with aluminium bromide, and red, with mercury sulphide. The prussian blue used in the blue powder has been associated with contact dermatitis, while the copper sulphate in the green has been documented to cause eye allergiese, puffiness of the eyes, or temporary blindness.


The colorant used in the dry colors, also called gulals, was found to be toxic, with heavy metals causing asthma, skin diseases and temporary blindness. Both of the commonly used bases-asbestos or silica-are associated with health issues. They reported that the wet colors might lead to skin discolouration and dermatitis due to their use of color concentrate gentian violet. Environmental impact An alleged environmental issue related to the celebration of Holi is the traditional Holika Dahan bonfire, which is believed to contribute to deforestation. A local tabloid had a view published that 30,000 bonfires each burning approximately 100 kg of wood are lit in one season. Several methods of preventing this consumption of wood have been proposed, including the replacement of wood with waste material or lighting of a single fire per community, rather than multiple smaller fires.

However, the idea of lighting waste material antagonizes large sections of a certain community who take it as a Western attack to their cultures and traditions citing several examples of similar festivities elsewhere. There is also concern about the large scale wastage of water and water-pollution due to synthetic colors during Holi celebration.

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