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In India, Holi announces the arrival of spring and the passing of winter. The festival breathes an atmosphere of social merriment. People bury their hatchets with a warm embrace and throw their worries to the wind. Every nook and corner presents a colorful sight. Young and old alike are covered with colour.
People take part in Holi all around the world, but it is celebrated the most in parts of India and Nepal. It is often associated with the coloured powders that end up coating its participants after they’ve thrown them at each other. But this is just one part of Holi, which is split into two events: Holika Dahan and Rangwali Holi.
In the scheme of Hindu celebrations, Holi is a relatively secular one. It draws on various mythologies. First and foremost is the burning of the devil Holika, but it also draws on the legend of Radha and Krishna. Krishna loved Radha, but felt self-conscious about how different their skin-colours were. So on the advice of his mother, he went and playfully painted her face so it was the same colour as his. It is said that lovers often celebrate Holi in this tradition, by colouring their faces the same colour during the celebrations.
Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika Dahan where people gather, perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil be destroyed the way Holika, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, was killed in the fire.
In the Braj region of India, where the Hindu deity Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated until Rangpanchmi in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. The festivities officially usher in spring, with Holi celebrated as a festival of love. There is a symbolic myth behind commemorating Krishna as well.
There is a symbolic legend to explain why Holi is celebrated as a festival of colours in the honour of Hindu god Vishnu and his follower Prahlada. King Hiranyakashipu, according to a legend found in chapter 7 of Bhagavata Purana, was the king of demonic Asuras, and had earned a boon that gave him five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons), and neither on land nor in water or air. Hiranyakashipu grew arrogant, thought he was God, and demanded that everyone worship only him.
Kumaoni Holi in Uttarakhand includes a musical affair. It takes different forms such as the Baithki Holi, the Khari Holi and the Mahila Holi. In Baithki Holi and Khari Holi, people sing songs with a touch of melody, fun and spiritualism. These songs are essentially based on classical ragas. Baithki Holi (बैठकी होली), also known as Nirvan Ki Holi, begins from the premises of temples, where Holiyars (होल्यार) sing Holi songs and people gather to participate, along with playing classical music. The songs are sung in a particular sequence depending on the time of day; for instance, at noon the songs are based on Peelu, Bhimpalasi and Sarang ragas, while evening songs are based on the ragas such as Kalyan, Shyamkalyan and Yaman. The Khari Holi (खड़ी होली) is mostly celebrated in the rural areas of Kumaon.
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