Holi Traditions and Customs

A custom or tradition is a long-established action or pattern of behavior in a community or group of people, often one that has been handed down from generation to generation. So is the case with Holi traditions and customs. It is a festival that has its roots in age old beliefs and Indian mythology.

Holi Bonfires
Holika Dahan or the lighting of bonfire takes place on the eve of Holi. The day is also popularly called Chhoti Holi or the Small Holi. On the Vasant Panchami day, almost 40 days before the Holi festival, a wooden log is kept in a central public place. People go on throwing twigs, dried leaves, branches of trees on to that log which gradually grows into a sizable heap. When it is time for Holika Dahan an effigy of Holika (made of a combustible material) and Prahlad (a non-combustible effigy) is kept on the logs. On the night of Phalguna Purnima, it is set alight amidst the chanting of Rakshoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda.

Holi Milan or Baithaks
Many days or sometimes weeks before the actual Holi-day, people sit together and sing Holi songs in Holi Milans. These are musical soirees or gatherings holi festival involving traditional Holi music. The love story of Radha Krishna also features in these songs. Hori are the special type of Holi folk songs which are also sung in these musical get-to-gethers.

Regional Holi Celebrations
This festival of colours is played in most parts of the country. The Holi celebrations have adapted a different regional flavour in different parts of the country. Apart from the usual tradition of playing with coloured powder and water, Holi also involves fun filled processions of folk songs and dances. There is a sense of abandonment and an underlying festive spirit to be seen in everyone.

Although Holi is mostly observed in north India, it’s celebrated with a special enthusiasm at Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon, and Barsnar. The reason for the same is the close association of these towns with Lord Krishna. Holi played by local Bhil tribesmen (of Madhya Pradesh), by rural Maharashtrians (where Holi is known as Rangpanchami) and the Holi festivities of Rajasthan(especially Jaisalmer) deserve a special mention.

Exchanging Gifts
There is a popular tradition of greeting each other with Holi gifts like Holi colours and traditional Indian sweets like Gujiya, Gazak, Mathri, Malpuas and Dry fruits on Holi. This is a festival which encourages the feeling of universal brotherhood. There is no differentiation between friends and enemies on Holi. Everyone wishes every other person and plays Holi with him/her.

Bhang in Drinks and Sweets
Making and drinking bhang ki thandai is another very popular custom of Holi. This drink is made by mixing bhang with thandai (an indian milk shake). Bhang is made from female cannabis or hemp plant, it can be understood to be a homemade drug. People also mix bhang in sweets and other preparations being offered to guests.

Playing With Colours on Holi
Abeer and Gulal are the names for Holi colours. These are the traditional and naturally made Holi colours. People also play with coloured water using pichkaris and other squirt guns on Badi Holi or Dhulendi. This coloured water is prepared using Tesu flowers.

The process involves gathering these flowers from trees, grinding them, and mixing them with water to produce orange-yellow coloured water. Another traditional Holi object now rarely seen is a red powder filled in Lakh bowls which are broken to spread colour on everyone. Though these days we have lost the touch with natural colours and synthetic or artificial colours are being increasingly used on Holi.

These are some of the more popular Holi customs. Holi is a festival that speaks of trust, love and goodwill. This is probably the reason that all its traditions are also representative of this feeling of brotherhood and the victory of good over evil.