It’s Holi today! And it is celebrated as the festival of colours. The night before, there was a bonfire lit with offerings made to the Hindu deities and foods like coconuts, dates, grains, jaggery, etc offered to the bonfire. While yesterday it was all about tradition, today will be all about fun and colours! Indians love to play Holi with colours and coloured water. Water-balloons or ‘plastic’ are filled with coloured water and thrown upon each other. Water-guns are used to spray kids with water. And if someone plays a prank on you, stuffing the balloons or water guns with stinky water or sometimes even water mixed with itching power or the likes, then ‘bura na mano, Holi hai‘! Everyone and anyone is game – children, adults, strangers, friends, family, etc. No one is spared during Holi and the festival is played with gusto among all members of society!

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The tradition of throwing colours on each other and playing with them is sure a great and fun tradition. But did you know that why did the custom originate in the first place? Why were colours thrown? The custom of the bonfire can sure be understood and is in keeping with the other Indian traditions but that of spraying colours? Seems pretty odd, doesn’t it? Well, in the ancient days, the Indians were very ardent followers of the heavenly spirits and believed that seasons too were a form of God. They worshipped everything from the sun to changing of seasons and Holi signifies the arrival of spring. Though there are many stories as to why colours are used, the real reason is very different. Let’s take a look at some of the tales before moving onto the real reason.

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The first one is the story of Prahlad and Holika. It was during the night of the bonfire that Hiranyakashyapu asked Holika to take Prahlada and sit in the fire. Holika was burnt and Prahlada was saved because of his devotion to Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu then emerged from the pillar as Narasimha and killed Hiranyakashyapu, Prahlada’s father. It signified the victory of good over evil. Since then, a bonfire was lit by villagers and the ash of the burnt-out fire was applied to the forehead by elders the next morning. Colours soon replaced ash and thus, the tradition of playing with colours was set in motion!

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Another tale also suggests that the tradition of playing with colours originated thanks to Lord Krishna! Lord Krishna was dark (hence the name Krishna, which means dark) but he and Radha (who was fair as milk) were the best of mates. However, everyone, including Radha, would tease him for his dark colour – yes, racism has always existed. Wanting to soothe her son and make him feel equal, Krishna’s mother one day gave him some colours and asked him to colour Radha’s face in whichever colour he pleased. Thus the tradition of using colours for Holi emerged since then and people colour each other in whichever shade they please!

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While these are the traditional reasons, the actual reason Holi was played was quite different. Holi falls around the time when the seasons are changing and winter is just giving way to spring. At such times, there are a lot of germs in the air and people fall sick. Diseases and illnesses like cold, viral fever, flu are spread among people. Even in the good old days, people suffered from such disorders. Thus, they came up with a unique and innovative way to protect themselves. By using the powders of plants and herbs that keep these diseases at bay!

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But then no, they did not want to do it the boring way and so came up with Holi instead! In ancient days, not synthetic colours but powders from medicinal plants and herbs were used. By applying these powders on each other and spraying them all around, diseases were prevented and people stayed healthy! Powders of Neem, Haldi (turmeric), Sandalwood, Mehendi, Palash Flower, Beetroot, Grapes, Amla, etc were used along with concoctions brewed from the same. These would be splashed on the people and ensured that diseases stayed away. What an amazingly fun way to make sure you stay safe!

Well, we really wish people did away with terrible synthetic colours and begin using these natural colours again. Perhaps you can bring back the ‘natural’ and ‘safe’ trend this Holi? Whatever you use, play heartily and play safe! Wishing all of you a very happy and safe Holi!