14-20 March 2014 #698

Ayo Holi!

The festival of colours is back, but the lolas can wait.

For a long time, the full moon day in the month of Fagun has been celebrated as the victory of good over evil, the beginning of spring, and a celebration of life. The Hindu scriptures, the Puranas, say that Holika, a legendary demoness, was burnt to death on this day. Although she had this nifty power of being resistant to fire, she was burnt to death when she leapt into a pyre with Prahlad, her (pious) nephew who refused to accept his father Hiranyakasyapa as the most powerful creature on earth.

Other legends have the young Krishna playing pranks on Radha and her friends in the forests of Vrindaban during this season; clearly the inspiration of wannabe Krishnas today, who see sexual harassment as justified by religion.  In Northern India, Holi fires are lit on the eve of the festival. In Nepal, the chir pole is put up in Basantapur Darbar Square a week before Holi to be burnt symbolically. However, Fagu Purnima isn’t just about ushering spring, it commemorates a good harvest and the colours and water symbolise rebirth and rejuvenation.

Here is a look at similar spring celebrations around the world where families and communities come together to cherish new beginnings:

Au naturel

  If your idea of fun on Fagu Purnima is smearing everyone in sight with colour and hitting them with those lethal little water balloons, think again. Lab tests on two of the most common colours, abir (red and yellow) reveal high percentages of toxic heavy metals like chromium, cadmium, lead, nickel, and even traces of mercury. Some of these can leave permanent harmful traces in the body if inhaled or ingested, others cause skin irritation and eye infections. Try out these DIY tricks and keep your skin and eyes happy and healthy.   Make a paste from these ingredients and mix them with gramflour (besan) for volume:

** For yellow – marigold, chrysanthemums, turmeric powder

** For red - rose, hibiscus, tomato, beetroot

** For green – henna, spinach, dried leaves of  Royal Poinciana (gulmohar)

** For brown - boiled tea leaves

Nowruz, Iran

Nowruz, which means ‘new day’ in Persian, marks the Iranian New Year. With its roots in Zoroastrianism, the festival is celebrated across Central Asia and in parts of Syria, north-western China, and Albania and marks the first day of spring. Celebrations include a traditional spring cleaning and the Wednesday Suri, the festival of fire in which participants jump over bonfires to symbolise the triumph of light (the good) over darkness (the bad).

Thingyan, Burma

Thingyan or the water festival marks the Burmese New Year and is usually celebrated over four days. Historically, the date for Thingyan was calculated following the traditional Burmese calendar, but today it is based on the Gregorian calendar. Water cannons and hoses fill the streets of Rangoon, the capital, during the festival. Thingyan celebration is similar to Songkran in Thailand, Pi Mao Lo in Laos, and Chaul Chnam Thmey in Cambodia.

Holla Mohalla, Punjab (India)

One day after the Hindu festival of Holi, another big spring celebration takes place across the northwestern state of Punjab: Holla Mohalla. During this three-day Sikh festival, people showcase their martial art skills in mock fights and the art of fire breathing. The festival is also a time when followers reaffirm their devotion to Khalsa Panth (the worldwide community of Sikhs).


  • Use organic, home-made colours
  • Stay away from large, unruly crowds
  • Oil your hair properly, will help you wash off colours more easily
  • Apply copious amounts of waterproof sun-screen
  • Wear a cap or bandanna to protect your hair
  • Cover as much of your body as possible


  • Force people into celebrations
  • Throw plastic lolas at unassuming passersby
  • Turn Holi into a free-for-all grope-fest
  • Mix too much colours because you will look like a freak at work the next day
  • Overindulge in bhang drinks and sweets
  • Drive home (drunk or high) after parties

Read also:

Holi ho!

Holi festival 2013

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