Celebrating Holi, Festival of Colours

We have not celebrated Holi in the traditional style with the burning of the holy bonfire, Holika Dahan, over the last few decades as we have not been able to visit our family home at Jaipur during the period of the Holi festival. By some stroke of luck this year we were at Jaipur and my mother in law was in great spirits. So we participated in the preparations and celebrated Holi with Holika Dahan at home for the first time as far as I can remember, .

Holi is a festival of colours! As in many festivals in India Holi celebrates the victory of good over evil. Celebrations begin the previous day with festivities around the holy fire, Holika Dahan. It is said that Holika, on the behest of her evil brother Hiranyakashipu, a demon king, sat on the pyre with young Prahalad, son of Hiranayakashipu. Holika the ‘evil’ sister, was charred to death while Prahalad a devotee of Lord Vishnu was saved and escaped unscathed. Note how the woman ‘Holika’ becomes the symbol of evil in this festival of Holika Dahan, which is celebrated to remember the victory of good over evil. Eventually Prahalad’s father was killed by Lord Vishnu in the avatar of Narasimha, half man and half lion. In the region of Braj, Mathura/Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna was born and spent his early years, Holi celebrates the divine love of Radha and Krishna.

Holi also celebrates the arrival of spring and a good harvest season, In North India where Holi is celebrated one can say the arrival of summer as the temperatures soar to 40 degrees Celsius and above. The festival of colours also perhaps depict the festival of a variety of flowers that are in full bloom during this period in North India.

In the afternoon I noticed what looked like a broom to me, standing upright, in the kitchen. I wondered who would place a scrawny looking broom in the kitchen? No matter, there is still a lot I do not understand of the sociology of my in-laws’ home! In the evening, I found the answer when I saw my mother in law sitting with the scrawny ‘broom’. It turned out to be an important ingredient to the preparations and an important personality in the Holika Dahan that was to follow! This was called ‘Dehengi’ and was actually a bunch of straw of ripe gram and grains of wheat with its husk on!

Our job was to prepare Pichakiya, tiny gujiyas, with filling of one gram seed/wheat grain and little pinch of gur/jaggery, The gram and wheat were pealed out of its husk from the Dehengi (straw of wheat and gram)! These little Pichakiyas were deep fired, just like Gujiya. Gulariya is fried balls made from loose batter of udad dal (lentil). And the third ingredient on the thali (plate) readied for the puja was Gulal, the pink powder used to play Holi with colours.

Gujiya is a delicacy, sweet of the Holi festival, prepared from filling of mava (essence or fat from milk), dried fruit and sugar. The outer cover is made from a batter of all purpose flour, maida. The filling can be done manually or with a small plastic mould. The consistency of the batter is a skill acquired over time! Was not the best today, but the gujiyas were mouth watering!

Preparation for the bonfire, or Holika, was a large iron frying pan, kadai, filled with little doughnut shaped cow dung cakes. The fire, embers, was brought from the community bonfire down the lane, with offerings of wheat grains and other things. The bonfire in the kadai was lit with the embers and the ritual of perambulation around the bonfire, or Holika Dahan began. Dehengi, straw of gram and wheat, was an important participant in this event as each member of the family walked around the fire with it while offering wheat grains and gulal (colour powder).

The festivities did not stop there. A small bundle of raw khadi cotton yarn, ‘Sooth ki Kukdi’, had been offered to the community Holika bonfire and brought home purified. Long strings of the yarn was cut to a length little longer than the height of each member of the family and offered to the holy fire. This was to ensure a long and healthy life, away from evil, to the members of the family! It was the most enjoyable Holi I have experienced.

We did not play with colours on the next day of Holi Duleti, due the restriction of the pandemic which still rages in the country. Hoping Holika Dahan and the Festival of Colours will bring new tidings to all of us in the coming year!

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