Holi is celebrated in the month of phalgun on full moon day. The festival marks the triumph of good over evil and begins with lighting a bonfire the night before. Holi is celebrated by distributing sweetmeats and throwing colour on each other. According to historians, Holi (earlier referred to as Holika) was celebrated by the Aryans mostly in the Eastern part of India hundreds of years ago. In those days, it was a religious custom performed by married women who used to worship the raka (moon) for the happiness and good health of their families.
THE LEGEND OF HOLI
The story goes that a king named Hiranyakashyap wanted people from his kingdom to worship him. But his son Prahlad became a devotee of Lord Naarayana. This made the king angry and he ordered his sister Holika to go into a raging fire keeping Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a blessing that made sure she could enter fire without getting hurt, but what the king did not know was that the blessing would not work if she entered the fire with someone else. Holika was burnt to death while Prahlad was saved by god as he was extremely devoted.
Another legend says it was Lord Krishna who started the tradition of playing with colours by applying them on Radha and the other gopis.
Holi also has a great biological significance. The festival arrives at a time when most of us feel lazy due to the changing climate. It is believed that Holi helps the body get back into action with the singing, dancing and merrymaking that is part of the festival. Also, the gulal that is applied is said to be very high in free ion components making people healthier. Lastly, the changing climate aids the growth of bacteria in the body. This is countered by bonfires, which burn at temperatures as
high as 1450F and kill the bacteria in and around the area.
In South India, people put vibhuti (ash) on their forehead and mix chandan (sandal paste) with young leaves and flowers of the mango tree.
Rabindranath Tagore was so inspired by the spirit of Holi that he decided to introduce Vasanta Utsav, the festival of spring, in Shantiniketan or Bishwabharati University, in Kolkatta where students wear yellow outfits and celebrate Holi with cultural programmes. After the programme, the students of the university play Holi with abeer a coloured powder prepared especially for Holi.
In the olden days, the red colour used during Holi was made at home from the flowers of the 'tesu' tree. This tree is also called the flame of the forest or 'palash'. The flowers of the latter are bright red in colour. They were collected from the trees and spread out on mats to dry in the sun. Once dried, they were then ground to a fine powder. This powder was then mixed with water to give a beautiful saffron red colour. The mixture was considered good for health, probably because of the reddish glow it left behind on the skin.
TIPS FOR HAIR AND SKIN CARE
- Try using herbal, natural or homemade colours.
- Use a barrier cream or oil (mustard oil is best) in generous quantities on all exposed parts of the body. Let the skin absorb it for 15 minutes. Then apply waterproof sunscreen. Apply vaseline inside nails, feet, elbows and at the back of your ears. People with sensitive skin should avoid colours on sensitive areas of the skin.
- Wear clothes that cover the body completely. This will protect most parts of your body from colours.
- Massage hair oil generously onto the scalp and length of the hair. This will protect hair from excessive dryness caused by colours.