March in India is known as a month of colours, thanks to one thing: Holi, the Hindu festival of colour, which is famous for its liberal throwing of brightly coloured powder and celebrated all over the world.
Marking the end of winter and commemorating the arrival of spring, the festival also celebrates the victory of good over evil, marked by the burning of the demoness Holika, enabled after solid devotion to the Hindu god of preservation, Lord Vishnu. The traditions and the label of Festival of Colours originate from Krishna, a reincarnation of Vishnu, who played pranks on the village girls using water and colours.
Every year the popular festival returns on a different date – the day after the full moon – with proceedings taking place a day earlier in West Bengal and Odisha. Holi festivities take place in most parts of India, though the largest traditional celebrations take place in Mathura, a four-hour drive from Delhi.
The event is typically celebrated with a host of street parties, covering each other in brightly coloured powder, throwing coloured water, dancing under water sprinklers and consuming bhang, a paste made from cannabis plants. Alongside the fun and religious significance, the throwing of colours was also seen to have medicinal properties. In order to stave off illnesses brought on by the damp weather of spring, the powders were made from natural medicines such as cumin, neem and turmeric. All in all, Holi is a very relaxed and carefree festival where you can have a lot of fun if you don’t mind staining your clothes!
Alongside the celebrations, there are also religious rituals which are acted out, centred around the burning of the demoness Holika. The eve before, people light large bonfires in an event known as Holika Dahan. People then sing and dance around the fire, performing a special puja, before walking around it three times. According to the Hindu text, the Narada Purana, Holika’s brother, the demon king Hiranyakashyap, demanded that she burned his son, Prahlad, as he worshipped Lord Vishnu and not him. Holika therefore sat with him on her lap in the fire, thinking that no harm would come to them, however, Lord Vishnu’s protection came through, saving the life of Prahlad and burning Holika.