Holi celebrations traditionally begin the day after the full moon of the lunar month Phalguna which falls in either late February or March. Prayers and bonfires are customary the night before Holi. This year, Holi’s eve falls on Sunday, March 16 followed by the day of Holi on Monday, March 17. The word Holi is derived from the word ‘hola’ which means offering, especially to God for a good harvest. The annual jubilee is also called Phagwah in many parts of India.
Popular with children and adults, the festivities are marked with the smattering of bright gulal (colored powder) to anyone standing nearby. Bystanders may also use pichkari (water jets) or buckets of water filled with bright red, green, yellow and blue colors to drench one another from head to toe.
Indoors the observance include reverence of one’s elders as well as feasts with sweet treats such as gujia, puran poli and refreshments such as thandai and the hemp based bhang.
Aside from its significance for ushering in the spring, the ancient Vedic festival has its roots in various legends from many parts of India. Holika Dahan one of the most well known stories is about the demon king Hiranyakashipu’s failed pursuit to punish his son Prahlad for worshipping Lord Narayana. After repeated warnings to his son, the demon king approached his sister Holika for help. Holika had a boon to never burn in a fire, and took Prahlad in her lap and entered a pyre to destroy him. Due to her villainous act of betrayal of Prahlad, Holika burned to death leaving Prahlad unharmed.
The age old lesson on moral values and the victory of good over evil are still played out throughout India where Holika is figuratively burned in effigy. In the cities of Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Nandgaon, Phalen and Barsana ‘Braj Holi’ is popularized by the reenactments of love legends associated with the eternal consorts Radha and Krishna.
The sixteen day festival is filled with folk music, dance and the worship of Agni or holy fire. The second day or Dhuleti is reminiscent of the common spray of colors throughout the cities. An interesting portion of the merrymaking is the piñata style hanging of a buttermilk pot high in a street. A human pyramid-type formation is created so that a person can climb up to break the pot, mimicking Lord Krishna’s similar childhood venture.
Holi is also a celebration of wives in the state of Haryana which welcomes ‘Dulandi Holi.’ Other variations of the boisterous festival are known as Dolyatra and Basanta Utsav in West Bengal.
Here in the United States, Holi is either celebrated via pageants and parades, local parties or large scale community gatherings which mingle food, music and fun.
Upcoming local Holi festivities this year in Southern California span from Los Angeles to San Diego:
Holi Festival of Colors 2014. Saturday, March 8, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.Excelsior High School Grounds 15711 Pioneer Blvd., Norwalk. Adults $5, Kids 12 and under free. http://www.festivalofcolorsusa.com/festival-of-colors/festival-of-colors-in-los-angeles-ca.
Association for India’s Development LA-OC’s Holi on the Beach 2014. Saturday, March 15, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Will Rogers State Beach (Between Towers 5&6), 14800 Pacific Coast Hwy., Pacific Palisades. $12 advance, $15 at door, $10 students, kids under 8 free. http://la-oc.aidindia.org/holionthebeach.
CRY San Diego Holi (Children’s Rights and Youth). March 15, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Ocean Air Rec Center 4770 Fairport Way, San Diego. Adults $10 advance, $12 at the door, Kids (6-12) $5. https://www.facebook.com/events/683367498373599/
Chinmaya Mission Los Angele Holi Picnic. March 16. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mile Square Regional Park, Fountain Valley. Dry Holi only. $5 entry fee for park, $10 adults and children over 4. Food and Color provided at park. https://www.chinmayala.org/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=166.