Today is Holi, a major Hindu holiday celebrated on the day after the full moon. Holi is also known as the Spring Festival which marks the arrival of spring; the season of hope and joy.
Holi also commemorates various events in Hindu mythology, in particular the evil king Hiranyakashipu who forbid his son Prahlad from worshipping Vishnu, but he continued to offer prayers to the god.
Hiranyakashipu became angry with his son and challenged Prahlad to sit on a pyre with his wicked aunt Holika who was believed to be immune to fire.
Prahlad accepted the challenge and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika was burnt to death, while Prahlad survived without a scar to show for it. The burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi. According to some accounts, Holika begged Prahlad for forgiveness before her death and he decreed that she would be remembered every year at Holi.
On the first day of Holi, a public bonfire is held commemorating the burning of Holika. The fire is lit sometime between 10pm and midnight, at the rising of the moon.
A central part of Holi is the throwing and applying of colored water and powders on family and friends (which gives the holiday its common name, “Festival of Colors.”) This ritual comes from the story of Krishna who asked his mother why he was so dark and Radha so fair. Krishna’s mother told him to apply colors on Radha’s face to see how her complexion would change.
Holi is spread over two days and is associated with the loosening up of social restrictions associated with caste, sex, age, and status, bridges social gaps and brings people together. It is also characterized by the loosening of social norms governing polite behavior which results in a lot of merrymaking.
A commonly heard phrase at this time is bura na mano Holi hai which means Don’t feel offended, its Holi.