Holi is referred to as the “Festival of Colours” or the “Festival of Love”. It is celebrated with the arrival of spring and is one of the ancient Hindu festivals with a lot of tales related to it stemming from various regions in India where it is celebrated.
One of the tales is that Holi is celebrated until Rang Panchami in commemoration of the divine and eternal love Radha had for Krishna. In his youth, it is believed that Krishna despaired whether the fair toned Radha would like his dark skin colour. Krishna’s mother got tired of his desperation and summoned Radha to colour Krishna’s face with any number of colours wanted. Ever since, this playful act of Radha colouring Krishna’s face is commemorated as Holi and this is one of the reasons why it is referred to as the “Festival of Love”.
Another tale from the Bhagavata Purana is about an Asura King or demon king named Hiranyakashipu who earned a boon which gave him five special powers. They were that he could be killed neither by a human nor an animal, neither indoor nor outdoor, neither by Astra i.e. a projectile weapon nor shastra i.e. handheld weapon, neither on land nor water or air, and neither in the morning nor at night. From then on, Hiranyakashipu grew more arrogant and considered himself as God and demanded everyone to worship him.
Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlada on the other hand not only disobeyed his father’s command but also remained devoted to Lord Vishnu whom Hiranyakashipu loathed. The unwavering devotion Prahlada had for Lord Vishnu infuriated Hiranyakashipu so much that he subjected his own son to cruel punishments but none of those punishments affected Prahlada as Lord Vishnu kept protecting the child. So at last, Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s sister tricked Prahlada to sit on fire along with her while she wore a cloak to protect herself from the flames. As the fire roared, Lord Vishnu summoned a gush of wind that made the cloak fly away to Prahlada as Holika burnt to her death. Later on, Lord Vishnu appeared as Lord Narasimha, an avatar where he is a part lion and part man to kill Hiranyakashipu. Resting on a doorstep and placing him in his lap, Lord Narasimha ripped open Hiranyakashipu’s stomach using his lion claws killing the evil king. The death of Holika is celebrated as Holi and by doing the Holika puja, it is believed that all sorts of fears can be eliminated.
In a few other traditions, Holi is linked to Lord Shiva. In this tale, Goddess Parvati wants to bring Shiva back into the world while he continues to meditate forever. She hopes to marry him and so she seeks help from Kamadeva - the God of Love, on Vasant Panchami. Though Kamadeva was initially hesitant to help, Goddess Parvati insists and Kamadeva shoots an arrow of love onto Shiva. Disturbed, Shiva is angered and when he gets to know that it was Kamadeva who shot the arrow, he opens his third eye and turns Kamadeva into ashes. This action upsets both Goddess Parvati and Kamadeva’s wife Rati Devi. In the hope to earn her husband back again, Rati Devi prays to Lord Shiva for forty days and pleads him to forgive her husband out of empathy. Realising Kamadeva wasn’t at fault, Shiva restores him in spirit and the 40th day after Vasant Panchami is celebrated as Holi.
Irrespective of the tales, this festival brings positivity to everyone’s lives and it is a day worth rejoicing. It is often celebrated with the utmost excitement and joy by all, from the young to the old. Playing with water guns filled with colours or throwing water-filled balloons, this celebration opens up the streets for people to play the instruments, alongside singing and dancing. It is even noted through several paintings from the Mughal era of India that in some areas near Kanpur, Holi lasts for seven days culminating in a grand fair called ‘Holimela’ which is held on the last day.