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Holi Hai!

A Festival of Colours

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Holi signifies the advent of spring

It is related to the harvest season. Celebrated throughout India, it falls on the day after the last full moon in the Hindu lunar calendar.

There are many stories associated with the origins of Holi, but for most, it is a time to celebrate the joy of life and nature’s abundance, with bright colours and festive foods. Today, the shops sell powdered colour in a range of bright colours, but in the olden times gulal was the only colour used during Holi. Gulal is a red powder made from roses and carries the fragrance of the flower. People wear white clothes to convey purity and also because colours just show up better on white. It is an auspicious time to cleanse oneself of past mistakes, forgive one another, and embrace new beginnings. This is a day when old and young, rich and poor all come together to celebrate love and equality.

Stories about the origins of Holi

Lord Krishna was dark skinned and would often complain to his mother about his skin tone compared to that of fair Radha, his consort. His mother responded by smearing gulal on Radha’s face and that is one of the reasons for the practice of applying colour on people during Holi.
As stories go, this one is the proverbial good over evil version. Prahalad, son of the demon king Hiranyakashyap, was devoted to Vishnu, the preserver. The demon king disapproved and tried to kill Prahalad several times but was unsuccessful. The king’s sister Holika, also a demon, being gifted with the power of being immune to fire, walked into a raging fire carrying Prahalad with her, trying to kill him. However, the gods removed her powers because she had used them for an evil purpose. She was the one who burned and turned to ash, while Prahalad was unharmed and protected by Vishnu, the preserver. This is why one day before Holi, bonfires are lit as a symbol of good triumphing over evil.

Festive foods

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Food and drink selections during Holi include sweets like Jalebi, a crispy and crunchy dessert dipped in sugar syrup and saffron; Malpua, a sweet deep-fried pancake dipped in sugar syrup; and Thandai, which translates to cooling off, a cold milkshake prepared with a mixture of almonds, fennel seeds, watermelon kernels, rose petals, pepper, poppy seeds, cardamom, saffron, milk and sugar. Thandai has this complex layering of spices and floral notes that tastes of the changing season, the end of winter and the start of summer.

Holi in different regions of India

Lath Mar Holi As the story goes, Lord Krishna from Nandgaon visited his beloved Radha in Barsana during Holi. When he applied colour on Radha’s face in jest her friends took offence and drove him out of Barsana with lathis (bamboo sticks). Every year, Barsana recreates this incident during Holi. Men from Nandgaon visit Barsana fully prepared with shields and protective gear, and tease the women by singing songs and jesting with them. The women chase them away with colours and lathis. The unlucky men who get into the hands of the women of Barsana are made to wear female dresses and dance in public.

In West Bengal, the festival is dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha and marks the last festival of the year as per the Bengali calendar. Dol Jatra is celebrated by throwing ‘gulaal’ or ‘aabir’ on others and by singing and dancing. In Punjab, the Sikhs celebrate a three day festival called ‘Hola Mohalla’. At Anandpur Sahib in Punjab, attendees camp out for a week enjoying displays of fighting prowess and bravery, and listening to kirtan, music and poetry.

COT Edtor - Roma Mehta

Roma Mehta is a creative consultant, visual artist and event organizer. She enjoys organizing events and workshops that foster cross-cultural expression.

This year’s #Taipeiholi2023 festival was organised by the BKMT (Bhartiya Kar-Seva Mandali Taiwan 在台印度服務團), a group of ‘sevadars’ meaning a group of volunteers who do service for the community by arranging Indian festivals like Holi, and other cultural gatherings.

BKMT restaurants:

  • Mayur Indian Kitchen
  • Moksha Indian Restaurant
  • Spice Shop, 3 Idiots
  • 3 Wishes
  • Out of India
  • Tandoor
  • M&M Curries
  • Desi Spice
  • Chilliesine.

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