The Holi Festival – perhaps better known in the UK as the Festival of Colour – is one of the most important events in the Hindu calendar.
Marking the arrival of spring each year, the Holi Festival is marked by throwing coloured powders, creating a rainbow of colours across everyone that takes part. It’s a fantastic way to celebrate the coming of new life, ultimately signifying the triumph of good over evil, and it’s a multi-coloured extravaganza with an intriguing backstory.
The Holi Festival dates all the way back to the 4th century, when the end of winter was seen as a chance to celebrate fertility.
Divided into two parts across two days, Holika Dahan is staged the night before the festival, with purification rituals involving the burning of pyres. Rangwali Holi is the main event, where that coloured powder – which is known as gulal – is cast around to create the iconic colours and photographs that have made Holi so popular and well-known throughout the world. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some parts of India and Nepal make their Holi Festivals last much longer, with the Braj region of India stretching theirs out across 16 days!
As you might expect, the roots of the Holi Festival lie in Indian mythology. According to legend, the supreme deity of Krishna fell in love with the goddess Radha, but was troubled by their differences in skin colour – his being blue. Krishna painted Radha’s face to overcome the difference, and the festival is now a favourite among lovers who make sure their own faces match when the gulal starts to fly.
If you’re wondering how the gulal is removed afterwards, it’s simple. Hindus are advised to heavily moisturise their skin before the festival takes place to make sure the gulal can be easily rinsed out. Everyone is rewarded for getting themselves clean and smart with the distribution of gifts and traditional sweets.
If you’re thinking of setting the date for Holi each year, you’re out of luck. Unlike many other festivals held around the world, the timing of Holi depends on the movements of the moon. Lunar cycles dictated that this year’s Rangwali Holi would take place on March 13th, while Holi 2018 will kick off on March 1st. It might be a little unpredictable, but at least you don’t have to wait quite as long to take part in the next bout of gulal throwing.