PHOTOS: Holi festival of colors

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India Holi festival of color
Indian revellers play with colours during Holi celebrations in Chennai on March 13, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKAR)

Most cultures have a holiday that heralds the coming of Spring. In India, the Holi festival is celebrated by a large public bonfire, a great feast, dancing, and the throwing of bright colored powders on everything – and everyone.

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About the Holi festival of colors

Holi is an ancient celebration rooted in two legends: Holika and Prajdad, and Radha and Krishna.

Holika and Prajdad
Holika was sister to the demon-king Hirankashyap. When Hirankashyap’s son Prajdad chose to worship Vishnu instead of him, he ordered Prajdad to be killed. After many of his attempts were foiled, Hirankashyap ordered his sister Holika, who was immune to flames, to sit with Prajdad on her lap in the middle of a great bonfire. However, Vishnu once again prevailed and Prajdad emerged from the flames unharmed, while Holika burned to death.

Holi bonfire

On the eve of Holi, a bonfire topped with an effigy of Prahlada and Holika is lit. People then sing and dance around the fire. (PHOTO: Reuters)

The legend of Holika is where Holi gets its name and it celebrates the triumph of good over evil with a huge public bonfire the night before the festival. The following day, people cast colored powders and paint onto each other to celebrate Prajdad’s perseverance and the emergence of spring from the winter.

Radha and Krishna
The casting of colored powders originates from legendary lovers Radha and Krishna. According to the story, Krishna was sad because his skin was dark while Radha had fair skin. Hoping to ease his sadness, Krishna’s mother told him to paint Radha’s face whatever color he wished. Krishna did this from the paints on her face created many paintings and murals.

India Holi festival of color

Indian youth play with colors during Holi celebrations in Chennai on March 12, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ARUN SANKAR)

During Holi, it is tradition for family members and lovers to paint each other’s faces as an expression of love. During the public celebration, anyone is fair game to be anointed.

Though many colors are cast during the Holi festival, two in particular have symbolic meaning:

RED – Symbolizes love, beauty and fertility. It is the color most worn by Indian brides.
GREEN – Means new beginnings, rebirth and the the harvest.

In most modern celebrations, Holi is an expression of universal love where the community sets aside race, social status, and everything else that might divide them.