The most popular of these stories describe the pastimes of Krishna, the cowherd boy and Lord of all, in Vrindavan. There, Krishna got up to all kinds of mischief. While stealing butter, play-acting, hiding from his friends, defying demons and dancing with the cowherd girls, he stole the hearts and minds of all. Sometimes he played these coloured water games with his most beloved milkmaid friends. The stories teach about love in its most joyful and sublime form, where Krishna is at the centre of everything and there is no selfishness, greed, envy or anger.
This practice makes anyone, anywhere, a fair target for a colourful drenching and is the reason Holi is known as the festival of colours. Despite the sometimes frivolous and boisterous hijinks, stories from sacred texts are remembered too to celebrate love as the heart of ideal relationships, and the victory of good over evil.
Holi, also known as the festival of colours, is celebrated at the time of the full moon in the month of Phalguna (end of February/March) and marks the beginning of Spring.
Primarily a North Indian festival, today it is embraced all over India and globally wherever there are Hindu communities. It is a time to transcend differences, bring people together, relax a little and have fun.
Because of this and the carnival atmosphere that spills out onto the streets and public places, Holi has gained popularity beyond Hindu traditions.
Along with singing, dancing, drama, creating floral decorations and feasting, celebrations also include the lighting of bonfires and squirting or spraying of coloured water and powders over participants with water guns and balloons.
The Narada Purana adds the story of Hiryanyakasipu’s sister Holika, who tried to burn Prahlada in a bonfire. Prahlada prayed to Vishnu again for protection and Holika instead went up in flames. Finally, Vishnu dramatically appeared from a pillar of stone as the half-man half lion, Narasimha and defeated the arrogant Hiranyakasipu. Prahlad was saved by his unshakable faith and devotion to Vishnu.
Holi and the colourful arrival of Spring have been celebrated from ancient times. Classical Sanskrit dramatists Bhasa (350 C.E) and Kalidasa (6th century) among others describe the Holi festival as Kamadeva or Madana, the personification of the God of love. Shiva traditions still celebrate the return of Kamadeva who, having offended Shiva with his arrow of love, is forgiven and restored to life.
The spirit of Holi today lives on and continues to inspire artists, poets, sculptors, and painters alike. It offers everyone opportunity to whole-heartedly and joyfully celebrate the triumph of love over hate, virtue over evil and God over all. It remains one of the most inclusive of all Hindu festivals and invites
everyone to participate.