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History of Holi

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The Indian sky is changing - the March winds are coming in and winter begins to bow out. Holi is the festival that carries the country into the bright days of summer. A feeling of plenty is in the air - the crops have been cut, threshed and stored or sold. The farmer is at rest and money is at hand. ‘Holi’ falls on the full moon, in the month of Phalgun, which spans the end of Februry and the beginning of March on the Gregorian calendar. A time when Spring is in the air.

The legend of King Hiranyakashipu is associated with the festival of Holi. This legend signifies the victory of good over evil, of devotion surpassing ambition. King Hiranyakashipu was an ambitious ruler, one who wanted absolute power so that he would be worshipped as God. When this wish was made known, the King's own son, Prahlad, refused to obey his father. Prahlad was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, and it was only to his Lord that he gave allegiance.

The proud King was enraged by Prahlad's disobedience and decided to punish him severely. He asked his sister Holika for help. It was believed that Holika was immune to fire and would never be burnt, so the King asked Holika to sit in the centre of a bonfire with Prahlad on her lap, so that the fire could devour him.
The bonfire was lit, and young Prahlad sat in Holika's lap, in its centre, praying to Lord Vishnu. His devotion saved him, leaving him untouched by the flames, but Holika was burnt to ashes. To mark this legend, huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Holi, especially in Bihar and the rest of North India.

Vrindavan and Lord Krishna's legend of courting Radha and playing pranks on the Gopis are also the essence of Holi. In Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna in his youth has been idealised as a lover, and it is the spirit of his lighthearted, mischievous passion of courtship that enters the Spring festival of Holi. Krishna and Radha are depicted celebrating Holi in the hamlets of Gokul, Barsana and Vrindavan, bringing them alive with mischief and youthful pranks.

Holi was Krishna and Radha's celebration of love - a teasing, affectionate panorama of feeling and colour. These scenes have been captured and immoratalised in the songs of Holi: the festival that is also the harbinger of the light, warm and beautiful days of Spring.


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