Amongst all the festivals of India, Holi ranks as the most colorful. The festival is celebrated for
2 days, commencing with the
Sukla Chaturdasi of Phalguna. It celebrates the arrival of spring and death of demoness Holika, it is a celebration of joy and hope. Holi provides a refreshing respite from the mundane norms as people from all walks of life mingle in colours, warmth, love and joy. Holi can be rightfully called as the spring festival of the Hindus when mother earth shakes off from winter blues and assumes the colour of the spring.
On the eve of Holi, huge bundles of wood are gathered, a bonfire called Holika lightened at night at the major crossroads of the city. People believe this would ward off the evils and purify the environment. Thus Holi also means "sacrifice". It gets rid of the impurities of mind such as lust, greed, vanity and egoism and purifies the soul with the fire of love and devotion for the Lord.
Twin towns of Nandagaon ( where Lord Krishna grew up ) and Barsana ( where Shri Radha grew up ), near Mathura in the state of Uttar Pradesh start off the celebrations a week earlier than the rest of India. Men and women of Vraj (the name of the region) indulge in a colourful yet mock display of battle of the sexes.
Men of Nandagaon raid Barsana with hopes of raising their flag over Shri Radhikaji's temple. They receive a thunderous welcome as the women of Barsana greet them with long wooden sticks. The men are soundly beaten as they attempt to rush through town to reach the relative safety of Shri Radhikaji's temple. Men are well padded as they are not allowed to retaliate. In this mock battle the men try their best not to be captured. Unlucky captives can be forcefully lead away, thrashed and dressed in female attire before being made to dance.
Famous poets like Surdas, Nand-das, Kumbhan-das and others, have written beautifully as to how Lord Krishna was similarly received and forced to wear a sari, forced to wear make-up and made to dance before being released by the gopies of Vraj. The next day, men of Barsana reciprocate by invading Nandagow. Pink and white powders called abir and gulal cloud the sky as frenzied men and women revel on the streets. A naturally occurring orange-red dye,kasuda is used to drench all participants.
The temples in Vrindavan celebrate the festival with pomp and splendor. The renowned temple of Bakai-Bihari worshipped by the 15th century saint Haridas, is at the centre of the festivities.
In other parts of North India, people play joyfully with colored water, abir and gulal. Shouts of "Holi Hai" (It's Holi) ring the atmosphere as brothers, sisters, friends and relatives and even passerbys in the street engage throwing colors at each other cutting across all restrictions. People also sing special Holi songs including
traditional devotional songs as well modern Holi songs of Hindi films.
The religious element in the Holi festival consists of worship of Sri Krishna. In some places it is also called the Dol Yatra. The word dol literally means "a swing". An image of Sri Krishna as a child is placed in a little swing-cradle and decorated with flowers and painted with colored powders.
In Bengal the festival features the Swing Festival Dolayatra or Dolapurnima, by placing the images of Lord Krishan as a child on decorated platforms and swinging them in turn. The pure, innocent frolics of little Krishna with the merry milkmaids—the Gopis of Brindavan—are commemorated. Devotees chant the Name of Sri Krishna and sing Holi-songs relating to the frolics of little Krishna with the Gopis.
In south India, people worship Kamadeva, the Indian equivalent of cupid. Clay models of Kamadeva are burnt in this occasion.