India and the Indian diaspora are celebrating the festival of colours --- Holi ---- that marks the end of winters and the beginning of spring --- on Thursday. Celebrations began a night before on Wednesday with Holika Dahan, wherein people perform religious rituals in front of a bonfire and pray for the destruction of evil, just the way Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, was killed in the fire.
On Holi or Rangpanchami, people smear each other with colours and hurl water balloons and also gorge on lip-smacking delicacies such as Gujiya, Mathri, Dahi Bhalle, Alu Poori, Thandai, among others. It is believed that Krishna used to celebrate the festival with colours at Vrindavan and Gokul.
However, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will not officially celebrate Holi this year as a mark of respect to its 40 jawans killed last month in a suicide attack at Pulwama in Jammu and Kashmir.
Google Doodle also celebrated Holi by showcasing festivities and splashing of colours.
The legend of Holi
The legend has it that a young boy named Prahlad was devoted to lord Vishnu. Prahlad’s father, the evil king did not like his son’s ardent devotion towards lord Vishnu and wanted him to give up his faith in the god and stop worshiping him. When Prahlad refused to do so and Hiranyakashyap tried to kill him. Hiranyakashyap's sister Holika had a divine blessing that she will not be burnt by fire. The king made Prahlad sit in Holika's lap and set the two on fire. With the blessings of Lord Vishnu, Prahlad, who kept chanting his name, remain untouched, but it was Holika who started to scream, the fire did not save her this time. Lord Vishnu appeared in his magnanimous Narasimha avatar and so the Holika Dahan puja is dedicated to the Narasimha avatar. In this avatar, the lord appears as half-man and half-lion. He took this unusual form to end all atrocities committed by the greedy Hiranyakashyapu.
While some legend say that the blessing was applicable only when she sits alone in the fire, other legends refer to a shawl or a 'magical' piece of cloth that saved her from fire. It says that with the blessing of Lord Vishnu, a strong wind blew and covered Prahlad with that shawl, saving him, while Holika burnt to death. With this legend, the tradition of Holika Dahan came into practice signifying the victory of good over evil.
Another legend of Holi celebrations that is extremely popular in south India is that of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva. It is believed Kaamadeva, the god of passion, awoke Shiva from his deep meditation so he could save the world.