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Holi, the Hindu Festival of Colors, is Friday. What is it, and how do you celebrate

Most people have probably seen an image somewhere online of people caked in a powdery mix of different hues, smiling and having a blast.

Most likely, it was the Festival of Colors, or Holi.

With records dating as far back as the fourth century, Holi has been a long-standing tradition of India and the world over. It’s celebrated year after year in an expression of carefree fun and vivid, breathtaking colors.

Even so, many in the United States don’t know much beyond just that. Where did the holiday come from? What does it celebrate? What is that powder made of?

We’ve compiled some basic facts about why Holi is such an important holiday in Indian culture and asked Gurpreet Singh Blaggan, owner of the Royal Punjabi in Norwich, to weigh in on the closely related Sikh festival Hola Mohalla, which this year begins on the same day as Holi – March 18.

?What is Holi

“Holi is the festival of color,” said Blaggan.

In Hinduism, the popular holiday centers around Radha Krishna, or the combined forms of feminine and masculine realities of God in the deities of Radha and Krishna. The story goes that Krishna despaired over whether the fair-skinned Radha would like his darker complexion. His mother, Yashoda, told him to approach Radha and ask her to color his face in any color she wanted. She did, and they became a couple. This playful coloring of their faces has been commemorated as Holi.

Holi also celebrates the victory of Lord Vishnu as Narasimha Narayana over Hiranyakashipu. 

In Sikhism, the holiday takes on a similar meaning.

“There were discriminations at the time, caste-wise, on who could celebrate holidays,” said Blaggan. “Only higher class people could celebrate holidays. Lower class couldn’t even watch the celebrations. In Sikhism, our 10th Guru, he wanted Holi to be celebrated by everyone.”

The major celebration for Hola Mohalla typically takes place the day after Holi at Anandpur Sahib, a city in the Indian state of Punjab. Attendees camp out and enjoy various displays of fighting prowess and bravery, as well as listen to kirtan (narration), music, and poetry.

Like with Hinduism, the festival celebrates color manifesting the Lord’s love and serving God.

What are the colors thrown around, and how do you celebrate Holi?

You’ve likely seen photos of people with their faces and bodies covered in a mix of different, vibrant colors. 

This powdered paint is galled gulal. It’s a mixture of more than 95% cornstarch blended with food, drug, and cosmetic grade dyes. Dozens, if not hundreds, of varying colors are made to be thrown and tossed about.

While some holidays can be complex with their traditions, Holi is pretty simple: it’s all about having fun. You spend time with family and friends, catching up and escaping from the monotony of everyday life, and throw colors at one another until you’re all coated and as vibrant as the springtime flowers around the corner.

These colors can symbolize different things, like blue for Krishna or green for rebirth and new beginnings. However, you don’t have to be practicing Hinduism or Sikhism to participate. Holi is inclusive at its core, and welcomes people from all walks of life to have fun in the merriment.

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