Holi: This is a preeminent spring festival of India, with the harvest having been completed and the winter just ended, bringing forward mirth and merriment. Gulal (colored powder) is sprinkled on each other by elders and children, men and women, rich and poor alike. All superficial social barriers are pulled down by the all-round gaiety and laughter.
The festival is primarily associated with the story of Holika, the sister of demon Hiranyakashipu. The demon-father, having failed in various other ways to make his son Prahlaada denounce Lord Naaraayana, finally asked his sister Holika to take Prahlaada in her lap and enter a blazing fire. Holika, who had a boon to remain unscathed by fire, did her brother's bidding. But Holika's boon ended by this act of supreme sin against the Lord's devotee and was herself burnt to ashes and Prahlaada came out unharmed.
There are other legends also. The virgin daughter of the king of Himalayas, Paarvati, was in deep penance to acquire the hand of Lord Shiva as her spouse. But Shiva himself was lost in a deep trance oblivious to the world. Kaamadeva - Cupid came to the rescue of Paarvati and shot his amorous arrows of love at Shiva. Shiva, disturbed from his trance, opened his terrible Third Eye, and the flames of Shiva's wrath, leaping from his fore-head eye, burnt Kaama to ashes and there after, Kaama became spirit without a form. Shiva then fructified Paarvatis penance by marrying her.
Another legend pertains to another Holika, also known as Pootana, who came as a charming woman to kill the infant Sri Krishna by feeding him with her poisoned breast. Sri Krishna, however, sucked her blood and she died a hideous death.
Holi is celebrated with special importance in Mathura, solemnizing the love of Radha and Krishna. The spraying of colored waters recalls the love sport of the Gopikaas and Lord Krishna.
No other festival brings home the lesson of spiritual and social harmony as well as the color, noise and entertainment that accompanies the celebration of Holi!! As in the case of all our festivals, this too has its plentiful share of spiritual significance. Fire is the symbol of yajna in which all our bodily desires and propensities are offered in the pure and blazing flame of spiritual enlightenment lit within our hearts.
Today, young and old alike are drenched with colors (red, green, yellow, blue, black and silver). On Holi, people are suddenly caught unawares with colors being poured from atop the houses, bursting balloons, or long pistons squirting colored water.