The last whiff of winter and the entry of spring – here is to the festival of Holi

Since yesterday in the city of Dallas, the temperatures have dropped again; the reluctant jackets and gloves are awake from their hibernation. They knew this might happen; the winter will throw a final fur ball of freezing air before it stands at the end of the season queue.

In spite of this cold wave, I see a few tulips in my backyard and I realize that today is Holi – an Indian, feisty festival of colors; of welcoming spring and the win of righteous over evil. I am reminded of the forgotten smell of ghujias, gulab jamoons and all other goodies – prepared at this time of the year – decorated in thaalis and served to the group of people who stop by every household to color the faces of members of the family.

the vibrant colors
the vibrant colors

Today, I recall my childhood, my growing years, in India. Usually, at this time of the year, we’d have our final exams and it was tempting to go outside and play Holi instead of studying. Aware of my intentions, my mother used to lock the door from outside – a big lock at the front door sent away any visitors who’d come by to color and drench me, just so that I could study without any interruption. I still remember staring at the pages of my notebook, trying to concentrate while tolis or groups of men and women with colored faces and clothes were out on streets – some playing the drums; some dancing – enjoying the onset of spring and its vibrancy; the new harvest and a renewed life. In the evening, there used to be a get-together of families where everyone showed up with residual colors in the inner ears, by the side of eyes and the hairline. Songs were sung; games were played and thandai was served to all adults – giving them a high and settling them into a casual, informal ambience of laughter and unstoppable narratives.

Here is some more information on the festival and its origin: (Courtesy – Wikipedia)

The word Holi originated from Holika, sister of Hiranyakashipu. The festival of Holi is celebrated because of a story in the old Hindu religion. Hiranyakashipu is the great king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma(the creator), 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 worshiping Gods and start praising respectfully to him.

Hiranyakashipu, on the lap, being killed by Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu
Hiranyakashipu, on the lap, being killed by Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu

According to this belief, Hiranyakashipu‘s own son, Prahalada, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu(the Preserver). In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Vishnu. He was poisoned by Hiranyakashipu, 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 in the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s demoness sister, who also could not die because she had a boon preventing her from being burned by fire. Prahlada readily accepted his father’s orders, and prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed. The salvation of Prahlada and burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.

In 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. The festivities officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love.

Radha with lord Krishna playing Holi
Radha with lord Krishna playing Holi

And here I am – where there is no visible color in the air; no drums and no sweets but silence of a regular day. I’d work,  go home, prepare a regular dinner, participate in homework and cleaning and try to meditate for ten minutes – give up and then sleep.

But before I wave goodbye to the day – I will color the faces of my family – narrate the story of the origin of Holi (one more time) to my kids and remind them the significance of this festival in our lives.

Holi played in a courtyard
Holi played in a courtyard

As the evening of a full moon approaches, let there be color and light in your life. Let the winter come by with its struggles and say goodbye with a whiff of colorful spring. Let the new season warm you up and revitalize with energy. Happy Holi!

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