Holi 2023 Date, History, Time, Shubha MuhurthFebruary 20, 2023
What is Holi?
Most Hindus know about the divine love between Krishna and Radha. But did you know that Krishna thought that Radha, who was fair-skinned, would not love him because of his dark complexion? Seeing Krishna’s angst, his foster mother, Yashodha, suggested that he ask Radha to color him with her preferred colors. Krishna did so, and Radha was only too happy to comply. This incident is commemorated in a very popular festival in India. Called variously as the Festival of Colors, Festival of Love, and Festival of Spring, it is none other than Holi.
Holi celebrates the eternal and divine love of Krishna and Radha. It also symbolizes the victory of good over evil, as one mythological story has it that the festival commemorates Vishnu’s victory over the demon, Hiranyakashipu. Holi is also celebrated in other parts of Asia and the Western world, where there is a sizeable Indian diaspora.
Holi marks the advent of the spring season. On this day, people get together, play games and have fun. It is a time to forget and forgive, and mend broken relationships. It starts on the evening of Purnima or Full Moon Day in Phalguna month, which falls sometime around the middle of March in the Gregorian calendar and lasts for a night and the next day.
The first evening is Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi. The next day is Holi, which is also called Dol Purnima, Dhuleti, Ukuli, Manjal Kuli, Shigmo, etc., in other parts of India.
The Holi festival finds mention in the Puranas and Dasakumara Charita. The poet Kālidāsa referred to it in the 4th century. The celebration is also mentioned in the 7th-century Sanskrit drama Ratnavali.
Holi festivities begin on the night before Holi. A ceremony called Holika Dahan takes place during which people assemble and perform some religious rituals in front of a bonfire. They pray that the evil tendencies within them should be destroyed the way Holika, the sister of Hiranyakashipu, was burnt to death in the fire.
The next morning is Rangwali Holi (Dhuleti). On this day, people throw colored powder on each other with water guns and water-filled balloons. Some also play drums and other musical instruments and go from place to place, singing songs and dancing. It is also an occasion to visit family, friends, etc., and have a good time talking, eating, and drinking.
In North India, people, mostly the young, spray gulal (colored powder solutions) a each other. The adults smear abir (dry-colored powders) on each other’s faces. Holi delicacies include puranpoli, dahi-bada, and gujia, desserts, and drinks. After playing with colors, people bathe, put on clean clothes, and visit loved ones.
Holi has a cultural significance. It is a time to forget and forgive. So people try to make up for past mistakes and end quarrels. They pay or forgive debts to begin on a clean slate.
In the Braj region, the festivities last more than a week. The rituals include men going around with shields and women beating them playfully on their shields with sticks. This is Latthmaar Holi. It is traditionally celebrated in Barsana village, the village of Radha. Women play the roles of gopikas (Radha’s friends), and men take the roles of gopas (Krishna’s friends).
In south India, some worship Kamadeva, the God of love, in Indian mythology.
Holika Dahan Rituals
People gather wood and combustible materials for the bonfire some days before the festival. People make bonfires in parks, community centers, near temples, and other open spaces. On top of the pyre, Holika’s effigy is placed. People also stock up on colored powders, food, party drinks, and festive dishes like gujiya, mathri, malpuas, and other regional delicacies.
The day before Holi, around or after sunset, the pyre is lit for the bonfire, and people gather around it and sing and dance.
Kama Dahanam (the burning of Kamadeva) is celebrated in some regions. The festival in these parts is called Rang Panchami and falls on the 5th day after Poornima (full moon).
Legends behind Holi
The festival has a different meaning in the Braj region of India, which has an association with the Hindu deity, Krishna, and his lover, Radha. Holi festivities continue until Rang Panchami to commemorate their divine love. Garga Samhita, a Puranic text by Sage Garga, was the first to describe Radha and Krishna playing Holi.
Holi is also related to the story of Vishnu’s Narasimha avatar. Prahlada, a great devotee of Vishnu, was the son of the demon king, Hiranyakashipu, as per a legend in chapter 7 of Bhagavata Purana. Hiranyakashipu had a boon that gave him five powers. He could not be killed by a human being or an animal, and neither indoors nor outdoors. Also, he could not be killed at day or night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons). Lastly, he was invincible on land, water, and air.
Naturally, Hiranyakashipu began to think that he was God and wanted everyone to worship only him. But Prahlada refused, as he was an ardent Vishnu devotee. This angered Hiranyakashipu. He made Prahlada undergo cruel punishments, but they had no effect on the boy.
Holika, Prahlada’s aunt, tried to kill him by making him sit on a pyre with her. However, she was wearing a cloak that protected her from fire. Prahlada had no such protection. But her evil plans came to naught when the cloak flew from Holika and covered Prahlada. Thus, Holika burned to death.
But even this did not deter Hiranyakashipu. Finally, Vishnu took the form of Narasimha (half human and half lion form (neither human nor animal), at dusk (when it was not day or night), took Hiranyakashyapu on his lap (not land, water, or air) at the threshold (neither indoors nor outdoors), and then eviscerated and killed him, using his claws (neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon).
On the day before Holi, people celebrate Holika Dahan by burning an effigy of Holika in a bonfire. It represents the fact that good triumphs over evil.
Kama and Rati
In Shaivism and Shaktism, Holi has links to Shiva’s yogic trance and deep meditation. Goddess Parvati wanted to bring Shiva back into worldly life. So she asked the Hindu god of love, Kamadeva, to help her on Vasant Panchami. Kama shot his arrows at Shiva, who opened his 3rd eye and burned Kama to ashes. This upset Rati, Kama’s wife, who performed severe penance for 40 days to restore her husband to life. Shiva forgave Kama, and the God of love came back to life again. This return of Kamadeva is celebrated as Holi on the 40th day after the Vasant Panchami festival. Jains also celebrate Holi.
Holi celebrations took place in Mughal India as well. People of all castes threw colors on the Emperor. In several paintings of the period, one can see Mughal emperors celebrating Holi. There used to be grand celebrations at the Lal Qila (Red Fort). The festival was also called Eid-e-gulaabi or Aab-e-Pashi.
Throughout the walled city of Delhi, aristocrats and traders took part in Mehfils. But all this came to an end during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, who banned the public celebration of Holi in November 1665. But the celebrations resumed after Aurangzeb’s death.
Sikhs celebrated the festival through the 19th century. Historic texts refer to it as Hola. Guru Gobind Singh modified Holi by introducing a 3-day Hola Mohalla extension festival featuring martial arts. This began the day after the Holi festival in Anandpur Sahib.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh and his Sikh Empire also observed Holi. Ranjit Singh celebrated Holi in the Bilawal gardens. After his death, his Sikh sons and others continued to celebrate Holi every year. Colonial British officials joined them as well.
Holi Date and Time
People celebrate Holi towards the end of winter, on the last Purnima or full moon day of the Hindu calendar month marking the advent of spring. The date usually falls in March, but sometimes in late February, as per the Gregorian calendar. In 2023, Holi is on March 8. Holika Dahan is on the evening of March 7, 2023, from 6:24 to 8:51
Significance of Holi
Holi celebrates the advent of spring. In 17th-century texts, it was described as a festival related to agriculture, spring harvests, and fertile land. It is a time to enjoy the vibrant colors of spring and bid winter goodbye. It is also an occasion to reset relationships, resolve conflicts and get rid of emotional impurities.
The religious significance of Holi is related to the legend of Holika and reinforces the idea that good always conquers evil.