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A kaleidoscopic cloud hangs over India, and it’s about to burst soon!
The sound of chartbusters like ‘O rang barse bheege chunar waali rang barse’ and ‘ ‘Hori khele raghuveera avadh mein’ boom at every street corner at the approach of the spring equinox, on the Phalguna Purnima (full moon).
With great gusto and anticipation, the people of India welcome Holi, the festival of colours. But did you imagine there could be so many incredibly different ways this festival is celebrated across the nation?
It’s no wonder, really, India being a land of countless cultures and traditions.
While the spirit remains the same - of good overcoming evil - and welcoming a season of fruitfulness and abundance, Holi is celebrated in inimitable ways in each state and you would be surprised just how unique Holi celebrations could get.
Here is how the festival of colours is celebrated in different parts of the country.
1. Rang Panchami – Maharashtra
In Maharashtra, Holi is also known as Shigma or Rang Panchami (colour on the fifth). The celebrations start after the sunset on Purnima by lighting up a pyre of firewood (burning Holika), symbolizing the victory of good over evil.
The next day is ‘Rang Panchami,’ which witnesses the ‘dhoom dhadaka,’ all the fun and frolic of people applying colour - ‘gulaal - and spraying water (or toppling entire buckets of coloured water) on each other.
You also get to gorge on a special delicacy of the state called ‘Puran Poli.’ The festival is celebrated by singing, dancing and preparing delicious delicacies as an offering to god.
2. Lathmar Holi & Holi Milan - Uttar Pradesh
You will find this quirky way to celebrate Holi in Uttar Pradesh. In Barsana, Mathura and Vrindavan areas, women run after men with lathis or canes and playfully hit them during this celebration. The men come prepared with a ‘dhal or shield. Hence it is called the Lathmar Holi and is celebrated a week before the Holi festival.
Thousands of people gather to witness this frenzied version of Holi. Men and women sing popular Holi songs and shout chants to Radha and Krishna. Outside this region, in Kanpur, Holi lasts for seven days, and the last day has a grand fair called Ganga Mela or the Holi Mela.
In Gorakhpur, Holi begins with a special pooja and through the day brotherhood is celebrated among people. They celebrate it as "Holi Milan," during which people visit each other’s houses, sing Holi songs, and express their love for each other by applying colour.
3. Holla Mohalla- Punjab
Punjab celebrates ‘Hola Mohalla,’ which looks, sounds, and feels like Holi for warriors! It is celebrated a day before Holi.
The celebration exhibits a profound display of martial arts, horse-riding, and reciting poetry, primarily to pay homage to the bravery of Sikh warriors, particularly to the sect known as ‘Nihang Sikhs. This is later followed by music, dance and colour.
4. Shigmo- Goa
The spring festival in Goa is called Shigmo. It is organized as a massive carnival with traditional folk songs and street dances, apart from playing with colours. As Goa is a coastal state with the primary occupation being fishing, fishermen’s boats are vibrantly decorated with religious and mythological themes.
There are two customs of celebrating Shigmo: ‘Dhakto Shigmo and Vhadlo Shigmo, meaning small Shigmo and big Shigmo, respectively. ‘Dhakto Shigmo is celebrated by the rural population, farmers and labourers, while ‘Vhadlo Shigmo is celebrated by everyone else.
5. Royal Holi- Udaipur
As the name suggests, Holi celebrations are done in Udaipur on a grand scale. Known as the kingdom city of ancient Mewar, the traditional festivities of this dynasty are continued till today by the Mewar royal family.
On the eve of Holi, the bonfire is lit by the current custodian and the effigy of ‘Holika is burnt. A flamboyant parade of decorated horses and the royal band follows. It’s quite a spectacle!
6. Kumaoni Holi - Uttarakhand
Kumaoni Holi is a celebration in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand that happens across many towns over a couple of months. This festivity is more of a musical affair than of colours as in the other states, and signifies the start of the sowing season for the farming community.
People light the Holika pyre (which is a bonfire with a green Paiya tree branch in the middle) known as ‘Cheer. Holi here is commemorated in three different forms:
7. Manjal Kuli- Kerala
Down south, Holi is not as popular as it is in other states. However, Kerala celebrates its own genre of festivities around this time with traditional folk songs and water colours containing turmeric.
The celebration happens only in a handful of temples and is a rather peaceful one where locals, especially from the Konkani and Kudumbi communities (that migrated from Goa), visit the temple on the first day and continue with the festivities on the second day.
The festival of Holi unites the varied people of India. It celebrates the uniqueness and relevance of each tradition, giving a sense of pride and teaching us the importance of overcoming evil with good. HAPPY HOLI!
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