What is Holi?
Holi is a Hindu festival that marks the arrival of spring. Known widely as the Festival of Colour, it takes place over two days, and is a celebration of fertility, colour, and love, as well as the triumph of good versus evil.
People take part in Holi all around the world, but it is celebrated the most in parts of India and Nepal. It is often associated with the coloured powders that end up coating its participants after they’ve thrown them at each other. But this is just one part of Holi, which is split into two events: Holika Dahan and Rangwali Holi.
Holika Dahan takes place the night before Rangwali Holi. Wood and dung-cakes are burned in a symbolic pyre to signify good defeating evil (in Hindu Vedi scriptures, the God Vishnu helps burn the devil Holika to death).
The next morning, people gather in public spaces and take part in Rangwali Holi. This is a raucous affair where people chase each other around, throwing handfuls of coloured powders (known as gulal) at one another, while getting drenched in water.
When is Holi?
The timing of Holi is synchronised with the moon, which means that the dates of each celebration varies year on year. This year Rangwali Holi will take place on 2 March, while the pyres of Holika Dahan will be burned the evening beforehand.
Why is it celebrated?
In the scheme of Hindu celebrations, Holi is a relatively secular one. It draws on various mythologies. First and foremost is the burning of the devil Holika, but it also draws on the legend of Radha and Krishna. Krishna loved Radha, but felt self-conscious about how different their skin-colours were. So on the advice of his mother, he went and playfully painted her face so it was the same colour as his. It is said that lovers often celebrate Holi in this tradition, by colouring their faces the same colour during the celebrations.
However, Holi is mostly seen as a time for people to get together and enjoy themselves. It is purported to be a time when friends, families and communities can get together without any concern for caste or ethnicity, although how much this holds true in reality is debatable. That said, there are certain groups that take its religious elements more seriously than others. In the Braj region of India, celebrations last for 16 days.