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Happy Holi!

Spring is officially here and so is Holi the Hindu Festival of Colours. Learn more about the Myths and Legends behind this spring festival and share your Holi celebrations with us on Instagram.

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Spring has officially sprung! As various cultures around the world celebrate the end of winter, you can expect our days here in the UK to start getting warmer. Yay!

For many Hindu’s Spring begins with the Festival of Colours also known as Holi. Best known for its tradition of throwing coloured powders and water, Holi is primarily celebrated in India but has spread globally with celebrations now taking place in countries such as Australia, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom. 

 

Holi’s roots in mythology and legends create a rich origin story, one such legend tells of Vishnu’s Victory over King Hiranyakashipu, an arrogant man who wanted to be worshipped as God.

In order to avenge his brother's death, King Hiranyakashyap sought the help of his sister, Holika to kill his son, Prahlad, a Vishnu devotee. Holika, having been blessed with immunity to fire, tricked Prahlad into joining her on a pyre. But to their shock, Prahlad was protected by his devotion and Holika was burned to ash. Later that night Vishnu in the form of Narasimha, succeeded in killing Hiranyakashyap and the victory was heralded as a triumph of good against evil. 

 

From this legend arose the practice of lighting a bonfire under the light of the first full moon of spring. The fire itself is symbolic of purification and ridding oneself of evil thoughts and intentions. This marks new beginnings and sets the stage for the Festival of Colours. 

 

In some parts of India, effigies of Putana, an ogress, are burned on their bonfires to mark another triumph and the end of winter darkness. Putana disguised herself so that she could get close to the infant Krishna in order to poison him. However, seeing through her intention, Lord Krishna sucked the life from her, revealing her monstrous form and ultimately killing her. The inhabitants of Lord Krishna’s village cut up the body of Putana, placing it into a fire which washed the ogress of her sins. This story is thought to serve as a reminder of the continual presence of evil in the world and how it can be overcome.

 

Another popular legend is that of the eternal love between Kirshna and Radha- there are various accounts of the legend from Kirshna smearing Radha in colour due to jealousy of her fair complexion, to Radha dousing herself in colour to resemble her love and his blue skin. The couple pranked each other with colourful powders, other villagers eventually joining in on the fun, until the festival snowballed into what it is today: A community gathering in a playful exchange of colour, reflective of the new blossoms of spring and the unity that comes with bringing people together.  

Couples will smear each other's faces as Krishna and Radha did to express their affection, While others engage in the youthful nature of the prank, social standing, age and religion becoming irrelevant.  

 

As with any festival of such vibrancy, you’ll find communities sharing in foods, dancing and singing together. Holi is seen as the perfect opportunity to make new friends and encourage social harmony.

 

You can learn more about the legends of Holi with Google Arts & Culture’s online exhibit here and SCFI’s retellings here. Or explore the flavours of India with Good Food’s Holi recipe collection here.

 

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