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| The days of celebration and the rituals.
The festival of Holi begins on Duwadashi - on the twelfth day of the waxing moon of the month of Phalgun. Spirits run high as the preparations for the festivities begin, as a custom, mothers make new clothes for their married daughters. Coloured powder (Gulal) is bought and prepared, long syringes called 'pichkaris' are made ready and water balloons are bought and filled. Preparations are made to cook the special food items that exclusively is meant for this festival.
Three days before the full moon, 'Rang Pashi' brings Holi into all households. The families get together in the evenings when people visit each other to perform the formal sprinkling of colour. In the past ‘the household purohit' or priest was invited to begin the celebrations, but this task has been taken over by the eldest male member of the family. A 'thali' or plate is arranged with coloured powders and coloured water is placed in a small brass container called a 'lota'. The eldest male member of the family begins the festivities by sprinkling coloured water and powders on each member of the assembled family. It is then the turn of the younger ones to do the same. In this unique way, affection and blessings are shared by all in the family. The celebrations on this day end with the partaking of food specially cooked for this occasion - gujjia, papri and kanji ke vade. Sometimes, meat dish like kofta curry is also served. It is customary to serve drinks before the meal.
The next day is known as 'Puno'. On this day, Holika is burnt in keeping with the legend of Prahlad and his devotion to lord Vishnu. In the evening, huge bonfires are lit on street corners at the crossroads. Usually this is a community celebration and people gather near the fire to fill the air with folk strains and dances. Sheaves of green gram and wheat are roasted in the bonfire and eaten.
The actual festival of Holi takes place the day after this. This day is called 'Parva'. Children, friends and neighbours gather on the streets and a riot of colour takes over. Coloured powders called 'abeer' or 'gulal' are thrown into the air and smeared on faces and bodies. 'Pichkaris' are filled with coloured water and this is spurted onto people. Water balloons are thrown at friends and neighbours in the spirit of fun. Sometimes, mud baths are prepared and people are 'dunked' into this amidst much laughter and teasing. The visitors carry 'abeer' or 'gulal' to pay their respects to elders by sprinkling some on their feet. The younger crowd is drenched with buckets of coloured water and pummeled with water balloons. 'Dholaks' or Indian drums are heard everywhere and the songs of Holi are carried by the voices of these merry-makers.
There is no 'puja' or worship associated with this festival of colours. Some 'gulal' or 'abeer' is smeared on the faces of the Gods, especially Krishna and Radha, at the commencement of the festivities.
There are some quaint customs are attached to this festival. Inviting sons-in-law and their families for a meal on this day is a must. When the meal is over, it is customary to give the sons-in-law, what is known as a 'pyala' - a crisp note of any denomination from rupees five to rupees five hundred is offered along with a glass of drink. Married daughters are given what is called 'kothli' or travel money by their mother-in-law, or the eldest lady in the family. Another custom entails a bit of fun, and is usually performed by a new bride with the help of the children in the family. The new bride is supposed to play a prank on the older couples of the family, usually her parents-in-law, and somehow lure them into a room to lock them in. The bride then demands a present for setting them free. The gift is usually a saree or a piece of jewellary. The bride is supposed to sing a song specially composed for the occasion, in which she will demand her ransom.
Holi is celebrated in almost the entire country, with great zest and verve. It is a time to remember the brightness and splendor of living, a time to spread joy, colour and love into the lives of our near and dear ones.
Phalgun arrives with the promise of warm days and new life - Spring is the season of rejuvenation and rebirth. The earth discards its winter gloom and begins to blossom again. As if to mark this change, Holi flings colour into Indian landscape and invites the celebration of life.
The spirit of Holi is colour - rich and vibrant, flung into the air and smeared with laughter on friends and loved ones. It recalls, very simply, the secret of life: a shifting panorama of sights, movement and feelings. Colours denotes energy - the vivid, passionate pulse of life. Colour signifies the vitality that makes the human race unique in the universal scheme. Holi, the festival of colour, is also the enactment of spring. It is, in a metaphorical sense, changing earth’s dull garb of winter for the fresh blue of the March skies, the bright colours of new blossoms, the brilliance of the summer sun washing everything with its red-gold hues.
Holi comes alive with the colours of 'gulal'. These are dry colours that are sold days before the festival actually begins. Markets are flooded with heaps of gulal - they are arranged in pyramids and sold loose. Vendors sit on street corners selling gulal to passers-by. Gulal is made up of many rich colours like pink, magenta, red, yellow and green. 'Abeer' is made of small crystals or paper like chips of mica. This is usually mixed with the gulal to give it a rich shine. These colours can be used dry, or mixed with water. New brides make a silver or gold colour from powders specially available in the market. This colour is mixed with a little coconut oil and stored in a bottle. It is applied in tiny quantities on the foreheads of near and dear ones, like a 'tilak' or a blaze-like mark.
In the old days, colour for Holi was made at home, from the flowers of the 'tesu' tree. This tree is also called 'the flame of the forest' or 'palash'. The flowers of the latter are bright red in colour and they used to be collected from the trees and spread out on mats, to dry in the sun. Once dried, they were then ground to a fine powder. This powder was then mixed with water to give a beautiful saffron-red colour. The mixture was considered good for health, probably because of the reddish glow it left behind on the skin.
Holi is, therefore, aptly called the festival of colour. Its spirit is uniquely Indian, colourful, exotic, and full of the energy of life.
Like all other festivals in India, Holi has its share of traditional clothing. Mothers usually gift new clothes to their married daughters and their young children. According to tradition, once the daughter's children get married, they automatically forfeit the right to this gift. A special saree known as a 'dandia' is gifted to the married daughter. The dandia is a white cotton saree, preferably of voile or 'mulmul'. Its borders are dyed with a non-fast colour called Indian Pink. The dandia is made by gathering all four sides of the saree and dipping each side, in turn, into the Indian Pink, allowing the colour to catch two to three inches of the cloth on each side. The colour spreads in uneven splendor towards the middle of the saree but to a limited extent. The effect is that of a slowly spreading blush. When the colour dries, the saree can be further decorated with paisley designs on the entire body. Other Indian motifs can also be used. When the colour and designs are ready, a border of gold or silver, about two to three inches in width, is stitched on to the edges of the dandia. This border is called a 'gota'. The portion of the saree that covers the head ('pallu'), has a 'kiran' or a fine fringe of gold or silver, attached to it. This adds shimmer to the dandia. According to the custom dandia is gifted, along with another saree, and blouses and petticoats to match. This traditional attire is a must for a newly wed bride.
On the day of Holi, mothers send their children out on the streets to indulge in all the drenching and smearing of colour. Many like to wear white sarees or salwar kameez, and the men often wear white pyjamas and kurtas and these act as wonderful contrasts to the bright colours everywhere.
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