New Delhi : Holi is one of the most popular festivals of Hindu religion, and is celebrated with great gusto across the country. Also known as festival of colours, the occasion marks a two-day celebration. The first day is known as Holika Dahan or Choti Holi, and the next day is known with different names in different parts of the country, including Rangwali Holi, Dhuleti, Dhulandi or Dhulivandan. As per the Hindu lunar calendar, the festival is celebrated every year on the full moon day (purnima) in the month of Falgun. Here are the dates of the festival, auspicious timings to offer prayers and the rituals of Holika Dahan.
This year, Holika Dahan is on March 1, and the auspicious timings for offering prayers are from 17:40 to 19:30. As the name suggest, people light bonfires on the occasion of Holika Dahan. The place where the bonfire is set is washed with cow dung and Ganga jal (holy water).
Apart from celebrating the onset of spring and winter harvest, the festival also revels the victory of good over evil. There are several mythological stories associated with the festival. One of them is about Lord Krishna and his follower Prahlad who was the son of demon king Hiranyakashyap. Hiranyakashyap was blessed with super powers and was against his son being an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna. Despite several attempts to punish him and turn him against Lord Krishna, Prahlad continued to be his follower and his faith for the Lord could not be shaken.
Finally, Hiranyakashyap asked his sister, Holika, to sit on a pyre with Prahlad. She had a magical cloak that protected her from fire. As they both sat on fire, the robe worn by Holika flew from her and encased Prahlad. In turn, Holika ended up burning herself to death, and Prahlad escaped unhurt. Therefore, people burn Holika (the bonfire) on this occasion to symbolise the end of all evil forces around us.
In many regions of the country, people worship Radha-Krishna on the first day of Holi. It is believed Lord Krishna smeared colour on Radha’s face and they later became a couple. Since that time, this playful colouring of Radha’s face started the tradition of Holi, and celebration of their divine love.
The preparations for the puja start with gathering woods, twigs, dried leaves, cow dung and making a bonfire. This is followed by making the effigies of Holika and Prahlad that are placed on the bonfire. A wooden pole is erected is the centre and is also decorated with stars, moons, swords, garlands and other toys made out of cow dung. Every region has its own set of traditions for conducting the puja and in many states, freshly harvested crops including wheat and gram are also included in the puja.
The puja thali is accompanied with a small pot of water, and devotees sit with them facing either north or east direction. Next, people take rounds of the pyre (three, five or seven) while tying raw yarn around it. This is accompanied with chanting of mantras and offering prayers. Next, people offer items like incense sticks, flowers, roli, raw cotton thread, turmeric pieces, unbroken lentil of moong, batasha, gulal powder, coconut etc to the holika and pour the water from the pot in front of it.
Finally, the holika is burnt, and people hug each other and seek blessings of Lord Vishnu. The new crops are roasted in the holy fire and served as the prasad. The next day, the ash from the bonfire is collected and smeared on the body. This ash is considered pious and it is believed that it purifies one soul.