The Holi festival takes place on full Moon day in the Indian month of Phalguna (February–March) in most North Indian areas. It is very ancient, probably celebrated (with the name Holika) before the Common Era began.
   One early form of the celebration was a rite for married women to celebrate the happiness and well-being of their families. In some areas today, the rite acquires sexual and erotic elements that may point to an origin in spring fertility rites. Sexually explicit songs may be sung and men may brandish penis-shaped objects. One of the names for the Holi festival is Kamamahotsava or the cel-ebration for the God of Love.
   The most popular feature of the Holi festival is the throwing or shooting of colored water on everyone. Celebrants wear white garb so that all the varied colors are visible. In villages it was not uncommon in years past for men to imbibe large quantities of bhang, a potent marijuana drink.
   Three stories are told to explain the festival. In the first it is said that Holi is the day that SHIVA opened his third eye and turned the god of love into ashes. In another story Holika, the sister of the demon HIRANYAKASIPU, took PRAHLADA on her lap to kill him that day, but the devotee of VISHNU survived unharmed. Finally it is said that there was an ogress Dhundhi who troubled children in an ancient kingdom, until the shouts of the mis-chievous boys of the town (something heard often on the festival of Holi) made her run away, since she was, through a curse, made vulnerable to the taunts of children.
   Further reading: Meenal Pandya, Here Comes Holi: The Festival of Colors (Wellesley, Mass.: MeeRa, 2003); H. V. Shekar, Festivals of India: Significance of the Celebrations (Louisville, Ky.: Insight Books, 2000).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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