Holi: The Hindu Festival of Springtime

“Holi hai!”
(“it is Holi!”)

Location: widespread in India as well as some western regions (therefore there are many local variants according to the class, region or the type of religion)

Date: February/March, on the full moon of the Phalguna month

Description: In general can Holi be characterised by joy and revelry. It is a festival of springtime and marrymaking with connection to fertility. With its phalic symbolism, obscene gestures, bonfires, dancing and singing it resembles for example the western May Day. Since it marks the last day of the old year and beginning of the new year and spring, it’s function is of a turning point: it allows social ties to be relaxed, renewed and it also articulates the cyclical process and seasonal shift. As the old year dissolves, the social order breaks down with it, which liberates the joyful as well as dangerous forces of chaos. That is represented by people throwing various substances at each other: most typical today is using squirt guns to spurt loads of coloured material in the streets in a sexually playfull way. The substances used to be fluids, mud, dust, fruits or eggs, but today it is mostly common to use confetti. The importance of clearing the air for new beginnings is stressed in some local variants of Holi, which is done by ritual burning of old stuff. Holi is also connected to the festival of Vascant Pandami which takes place around 40 days before and features fasting, worshipping as well as restrictions of caste, gender, age etc. – all of the typical parts of Hindu festivals, which are missing in Holi.

Source: ROY, Christian. Traditional festivals: a multicultural encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, [2005].