Holi: The festival of Colours (Part I)

Holi: The festival of Colours (Part I)

By Nishita Dimri

India is known to be a country with lots of festivals. We probably have a few festivals every month (and I’m not exaggerating). It’s sometimes hard to keep track of the, because they don’t really happen on a specific date. Most of the times the dates are decided on the basis of the phases of the moon or as per the Hindu calendar. This post however, is not to teach anyone about the different festivals. It’s about one specific festival called ‘“Holi”!

When you say Holi to any Indian person their faces will light up with like a firework! We have so many fond memories of celebrating Holi as a child or an adult. Holi is a festival that has its roots in Hindu religion but it is celebrated by people of all religions. It’s one of those festivals where your religion, caste, social status, gender, all of those social constructs; they don’t matter. It’s the festival of colours and rightly so. It’s the Indian equivalent of “La Tomatina” but instead of pelting our friends with tomatoes, we do it with colours.


Holi has been mentioned in ancient texts dating back to the 4th century (it’s probably much older than that). Holi is celebrated in a span of two days; the first day is called Chhoti Holi or Little Holi or Holika dahan and the main event is celebrated the next day with Holi, also called Dhulendi.
So why do we celebrate it for two days? Now that my friend requires me to give you brief lesson on the History of Holi:

Long ago, in a time long forgotten
There lived a prince, kind and fair
He bought joy to those around him
And was named Prahalad.
His father was different story,
The demon king, brought his kingdom misery,
He banned the worship of the Hindu Gods,
Especially Lord Vishnu,
For he had killed his younger brother.
(In a battle but those things happen)
He told his followers
“Pray to me for I am invincible,
Pray to me for I am your God”
And in complete surrender they did what he asked.
But there was one anomaly to this story,
One black sheep in the family
and it was none other than Prahalad,
he maintained his deity to be none other than Vishnu,
And defied his father’s orders.
Angered and full of rage
The king commanded his sister, Holika, to kill his son
“Engulf him in flames, for you are immune,
Make him see that his God is only I”
A pyre was lit,
An audience gathered
For the kind prince was to be executed
Holika sat in the pyre, arms clutching Prahalad
When the fire burned down,
There was an unexpected sight to behold,
Prahalad remained unscathed but Holika turned to ashes.
Some say she begged for forgiveness,
Some say she never realised when she died,
To this day however, we light bonfires and tell this story
The story of a kind Prince, an evil King, an unfortunate victim and the power of belief.


Of course this was only about Holika dahan, the main attraction is the day after that. Now the one thing to know about Indians is, as I speak generally, most of like celebrating festivals and for us the celebrations will probably start a week or so before. And Holi is a fun festival, so we can prolong it, we will. So a normal routine for us on Holi would be to wake up early morning, prepare our ammunition and by ammunition I’m referring to water balloons, water pistols, buckets full of water and different packets of colours (or as we call them, gulaal), you get the drill. Nowadays the colours used are mostly herbal so they’re safe to smear each other’s faces with. You even mix colour with the water. I remember as a child, our parents used to make this coloured water by soaking these special flowers in water 2 days before Holi. That was the way our ancestors used to prepare the water as well. Once you’re locked and loaded, it’s time to step out into the battlefield. The aim of the festival? Make sure that there’s not a single dry person in the colony! Oh, and colour the world and everyone around you with as many colours as you can! That’s the important part.

nishita with mom

My Mom and I, in the midst of Holi Celebrations

As one can imagine, with a country so big Holi is celebrated differently across the country. In one city, they play a version of Holi called “Lath Maar” Holi. In this version, men carry around small shields while women beat them with a stick, all in fun jest I assure you, well kind of. I mean if you’ve done something that you think your wife or mother or sister won’t like, it may be a good idea to start buttering them up before the festival begins, in case you’re in that particular are where they play Holi like this.

Once playtime is over, everyone gathers for lunch. There’s a certain sense of belonging you get when the whole community gets together to have lunch with each other. The food part is going to be explained by my friend Simran Kapur in her blog post, so be sure to check that out!

That’s all folks! At least for now. Here’s wishing you a Happy Holi! Be safe, Have Fun and Eat loads!

Nishita Dimri, India



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