If you think of a festival that has ingredients of fun, colour, water celebrations, carnivals and delights of spring, you have the festival Holi or Fagu.

Holi- falling in the Nepalese month of Fagun- is celebrated by smearing abir (red vermillion powder) and throwing colour powder and water-filled balloons at each other. An important festival welcoming the spring season, it is celebrated by people of all ages particularly by youth and children. The festival is credited with strengthening social fabrics. Families and friends get together and celebrate the occasion with a lot of merrymaking as the entire country gets drenched in colored water. Besides, holi is celebrated at the time of the year when the fields are in full bloom and people expect a good harvest. This gives people a good reason to rejoice, make merry and submerge themselves in the spirit of the festival. Also known as Fagu Purnima, the full moon day of Fagun, is perhaps the most colorful and joyous festival celebrated across the country.

Legends

A popular legend relates to one of the supreme Hindu deities Krishna. As a prankster Krishna with his irresistible looks, seduced gopinis (female cowherd girls) and engaged in playful activities with them. While girls were bathing or swimming in the holy waters of Yamuna, he mischievously stole all their clothes. Naughty Krishna then hung their clothes on a tree. The chir symbolizes that tree and the frills the clothes of gopinis.

Another story relates to Pralhad and his gold-clothed father Hiranya kasyap or Hiranya kashipu. A wicked demon king, Hiranya kasyap had a boon from Lord Bramha that he could neither be killed by human or animals, nor in or outside the house, neither during the day nor at night, neither on earth nor in the sky, neither by a weapon nor by mantras (mysterious chants). Because of this near-immortal boon from creator of the universe Bramha, he began terrorizing the whole planet with no one to fear to. Prahlad, an ardent believer in Lord Vishnu, on the contrary, was against his cruelty and arrogance. In sheer madness, the king ordered his demon sister Holika, believed to be immune from fire, to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad and burn his arguing son alive. Holika did so, taking her nephew on her lap. But he was untouched by the fire while his aunt was engulfed by it. It was a game planned by the organizer of Hinduism, Lord Vishnu himself. Later came the king’s turn. Vishnu reincarnated himself into a Narasimha (half human, half lion) and killed Hiranya kasyap at the door (not inside or outside) of his house, secured him in his lap (not
on earth or in sky), at the dusk (between day and night), and with his strong paws and claws (not weapons or mantras). Later, Prahlad received the throne as a reward from Vishnu. The fruits for devotion and punishment for cruelty are the strong messages behind the legend.

Yet another legend tells of the giant Guru Mapa who terrorized the city dwellers in Kantipur (Kathmandu) by snatching and eating their children. Society could, later, persuade the giant to enter into an understanding with them, that a lavish and plentiful annual banquet would be given to him with honour if he ceased terrorizing Kathmandu. As such, Kathmanduites still organize a feast in honor of Guru Mapa during the festival at midnight beneath the lone tree in the middle of the open ground Tundikhel. Local offer the whole buffalo apart from drinks and delicacies to the cannibal Guru Mapa.

Another legend relates Holi with the demon Putana who tried to kill infant Krishna on the orders of Kangsha, the devilish king and the maternal uncle of Krishna himself. Putana tricked Krishna’s mother Yashodha and lactated the infant Krishna with her most poisonous breast milk. But as a game plan, Putana died instead of Krishna, who was God Vishnu in cognito.

Celebrations

Installation of chir, a ceremonial pole, on the first day at Kathmandu Durbar Square announces the commencement of the festival. Chir is a three-tiered bamboo pole fringed with strips of clothes representing merriment. At the end of the festival, the pole is burnt in a public bonfire.

The last day is the wildest. The climax of the festival reaches at its peak when the youth brigades loaded with color powder and water balloons wander on foot or on vehicles around. They spare no one. Pichkari (water pistols) or long water syringes are used for discharging coloured water. Lola (balloons filled with water) are the weapons – the fun bombs. During the frolic celebrations everyone is likely to get involved in the colour riots. Children love the festival as they enjoy drenching in colored water and play with funny faces. Dances and folk songs are the other components of the festival.

Fagu contributes to bringing the society together and strengthens the secular and colourful fabric of the Nepalese society. It is also celebrated in hope of good harvest and fertility of the land among Nepal’s large farming communities.

Health warnings

There are, however, concerns regarding the use of toxic and harmful dyes, missed with chemical and substances during the fest. Colours and glossy material are mixed with oxidized metals, industrial dyes and toxic substances resulting in health hazard to people with respiratory problems. Skin allergies or even adverse effects on eyesight. So only harmless colours should be permitted. Parents and adults should encourage their children to celebrate the festival responsibly without harming or causing inconvenience to anyone and without using harmful chemicals.

Inconveniences, injuries, physical scuffles and even deaths are reported at times during the festival. Therefore, we all should encourage friendly and responsible celebration of this fun-filled annual gala.