Herd Holi



What is Holi?

Holi has been celebrated in the Indian subcontinent for centuries, with poems documenting celebrations dating back to the 4th century CE. It marks the beginning of spring after a long winter, symbolic of the triumph of good over evil. It is celebrated in March, corresponding to the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna. In 2020, Holi begins March 10.

There are varying accounts of Holi’s origin mentioned in several works of ancient Indian literature. According to one popular version of the story, an evil king became so powerful that he forced his subjects to worship him as their god. But to the king’s ire, his son Prahlada continued to be an ardent devotee of the Hindu deity Lord Vishnu. The angry king plotted with his sister, Holika, to kill his son. Holika, who was immune to fire, tricked Prahlada to sit in a pyre with her. When the pyre was lit, the boy’s devotion to Lord Vishnu helped him walk away unscathed while Holika, from whom the festival derives its name, was burned to death despite her immunity.

How is Holi celebrated?

On the eve of the festival, large pyres are lit in many parts of India to signify the burning of evil spirits. People often throw wood, dried leaves, and twigs into bonfires.

New Jersey, June 2019: People take part in the Holi celebrations in Hoboken, New Jersey—Photo by Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On the day of Holi, entire streets and towns turn red, green, and yellow as people throw colored powder into the air and splash them on others. Each color carries a meaning. Red, for example, symbolizes love and fertility while green stands for new beginnings. People also splash water on each other in celebration. Water guns are used to squirt water, while balloons filled with colored water are also flung from rooftops. Later in the day, families gather together for festive meals. It is also common to distribute sweets among neighbors and friends.

Why has Holi become popular outside India?

Holi has become increasingly popular outside of India — in large part because of the millions of Indians and other South Asians living all over the world. As with Diwali, another Indian festival, communities with South Asian heritage living abroad often get together to celebrate Holi.

“We want the future generation to be connected to the culture back home,” says Minal Jaiswal, who moved to London from Mumbai in 2003. Jaiswal organizes a not-for-profit Holi event every year for London’s South Asian community, which features dance performances and short plays on the story behind Holi. “Celebrating as a community helps parents show their children what this festival stands for.”


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