This year, Holi, the ’festival of colours’, also known as ‘Fagu Poornima”, falls on March (12th March 2017). Holi, actually, begins a week ahead of the day, at least for many young guys who believe that the Holi season gives them licence to harass young girls by hurling water filled balloons (‘lolas’) at them. This is a unique but routine part of Holi in Nepal, particularly in Kathmandu. On a more religious note (all festivals here are heavily toned with religious myths, usually several different myths), Holi also has a couple behind it.
According to one, Holi is a festival to celebrate the death of a demoness called Holika who had been given the task of burning a lad called Prahalad , the son of a demon called Hiranyakashyapu who had won the blessings of the gods that he couldn’t be killed by anybody on earth, sky and water, and by any means whatsoever. Well, Holika was his sister who in turn had been blessed that she would be immune from fire, and because the demon king was mad at his son for worshipping Lord Vishnu (considering himself to be immortal and so above anybody, including the gods), he asks Holika to grasp him and step into an inferno where Prahalad would die a fiery death. Instead, as it turns out, Holika is immolated herself while the lad escapes unhurt. According to another myth, Holi is to celebrate Lord Ram’s homecoming to Ayodhaya after his tremendous victory over the 10-headed King Ravana of Ceylon (Sri Lanka now) who had abducted Ram’s wife, Queen Sita, and so set off the war.
Of course myths don’t matter much when it comes to celebrate, the celebration is more important. In Nepal, this celebration takes place on two days. In the Terai, it is celebrated on the day after it is celebrated elsewhere. In Kathmandu, the festival begins with the raising of the ceremonial pole (Chir pole) at Basantapur. It’s topped with colorful cloth strips and is going to stand there till the end of the festival. The cloth strips (chirs) represent the clothes of the Gopinis (Krishna-adoring women) whose clothes naughty Krishna (also called Gopi) hangs on a tree while they are taking their bath naked in a river. Krishna tells them they aren’t getting back their clothes till they have prayed to the Sun God standing submerged for some time.
Lighted oil wicks are kept on a cow dung base at the bottom of the pole by devotees who also tie ceremonial threads around the pole. Thus begins the celebrations during which people throw coloured powder at each other besides dousing anybody and everybody within range with coloured water. People go around in groups smearing coloured powder on each other. So far, so good. Unwanted incidents happen when some don’t want to be so coloured but someone else insists on doing so. This someone is likely to be high on “bhang” (an intoxicating drink of marijuana) or on “bhang ko laddu” (sweetmeat containing marijuana). Bhang can lead to as much revelry as to rowdiness.
The end of Holi is signaled by the lowering of the Chir pole. Once it is lowered, the cloth pieces becoming targets of the waiting crowd who rush forward to grab a piece which are considered to be amulets against evil spirits. The pole is dragged to the Tundikhel grounds where it is burned resulting in a huge bonfire into which women throw coconut shells. Glowing coals and ash are taken by devotees to purify their homes. Holi in the Terai is more or less the same as far as the revelry is concerned. One thing about Holi in the Terai however, is that people invite over friends to partake of special delicacies on the day. This is one of the most civil parts of the festival however, like elsewhere, a certain amount of rough fun can also be expected. Nevertheless, all said and done, Holi is definitely the most colourful festival amongst all festivals but one could say that there are as many who look forward to it as there are who cannot wait for it to be over!
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