Holi Festival

free essay Religion plays an important role in every culture. Each religion has its holy days celebrated in various ways. India is one of the countries with the biggest number of gods and religious festivals, which are widely known for their colorfulness around the world. Religious holidays in India are important events in people’s lives. For instance, across India, women observe many festivals at home with fasting and prayer. These practices, undertaken as a matter of private devotion and need, sometimes form important and almost invisible activities associated with public festivals. Even though some acts in religious celebrations might look jolly and fun, each of them has a meaning and a story behind it.

In festive time, the boundaries of the human social world intertwine with sacred time, space, and beings. The suspension of normal time and relationships during this period is often marked by a key event or ritual that opens the festival or begins pilgrimages. For example, the lunar year’s end is marked by the great Holi festival. It is considered to be the brightest and jolliest festivals of all. This festival of colors is a celebration of the end of the cold season and the start of the hot season, the time of the Goddess (“Festivals of India” 9). The Holi festival brings much fun, music, dance, and many bright hues. It is widely regarded as the most fun filled Hindu festival, which has various names and traditions in different parts of India (“Festivals of India” 9). People celebrate this festival for two days. The first day is named Choti Holi (Galvan 137). During the sunset of this day, a priest prays and people start a huge bonfire named Holica Dahan, which symbolizes burning of demoness Holica (Galvan 137). As the fire starts, people begin singing and playing music. The first day of the celebration takes place on the crossroads, where people pray and worship throughout the country. The second day is known as Badi Holi, which means major Holi (Galvan 137). This day is celebrated with bright colors. On Badi Holi, people gather in groups called Tolees and walk from one group to another throwing colored powder and balloons with colored water at each other (Galvan 137).

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Despite being entertaining and jolly, throwing colored powder serves a medical purpose. These colors are made out of various medical herbs, such as Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and some others, which are recommended by doctors for curing various diseases (“Festivals of India” 9). For preparing colored water, people traditionally use flowers of Palash, which is also a medical herb (“Festivals of India” 9).

Holi is an ancient festival that could have possibly begun in times before Christianity. According to the most common belief, this celebration originated in Bengal, where it started as the Gaudiya Vaishnava festival (Galvan 137). The descriptions and mentionings of the festival are found in many ancient religious texts, paintings, sculptures, and murals in ancient temples (Galvan 137).

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The Holi festival takes an important place in the Indian religion. It represents the triumph of good over evil. It is also a commemoration of different religious events and it is connected to numerous legends in Hindu mythology. One of the most important legends associated with Holi is the story of Bhakt Prahalad. According to this legend, a king of demons named Hiranyakashyapu was blessed by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be murdered (“Festivals of India” 9). Upon receiving such power, Hiranyakashyapu became very ignorant and wanted people to glorify him as a god. However, his son Prahlad refused to obey this order and carried on worshiping Lord Vishnu (Galvan 138). Such disobedience of his son made Hiranyakashyapu so furious that he decided to kill him (Galvan 138). He tried to poison his son, but the poison became nectar in Prahlad’s mouth. Hiranyakashyapu ordered his son to be trampled by an elephant, but Prahlad stayed unharmed (“Festivals of India” 9). The king put his son into a room filled with venomous snakes, but Prahlad survived. Eventually, the king asked his sister Holika, who had a gift of being immune to fire, to kill Prahlad. Holika took the young Prahlad, put him on her lap and set in a blazing fire being absolutely confident that the fire will do no harm to her (“Festivals of India” 9). Prahlad kept praying Lord Vishnu to keep him safe from fire. As a result, Holika was burned to ashes and Prahlad walked out of the fire unharmed (“Festivals of India” 9). The festival is believed to be named after this incident and that is why it is celebrated by burning effigies of Holika in many regions of India. According to the legend, Hiranyakashyapu was later killed by Lord Vishnu, who came in the form of half-man and half-lion (Narashima) (“Festivals of India” 9).

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In Vrindavan, Barsana, and Mathura, which are related to the Lord Krishna areas, the Holi festival is celebrated by Krishna’s followers for sixteen days. People celebrate the festival in a different way. To honor Krishna’s playfulness, men from Nandgaon, which is the native land of the Lord, come to Barsana to play Holi with the local girls. However, instead of colors girls greet them with long sticks, which are known as Laathis (Galvan 138). Men try not to be caught and protect themselves with shields.

According to a legend about Krishna, the celebration of Holi is associated with love between Radha and Krishna. The legend says that one day young Krishna was playing Holi with Radha. The boy noticed that his skin was much darker than Radha’s. He criticized her and asked his mother Yashoda about it. His mother advised him to put some colors on her skin to make it darker (“Festivals of India” 9). Particularly because of this legend, the celebration of the Holi festival in cities that are related to Krishna is longer than in the other regions (“Festivals of India” 9).

Another legend about Krishna that is connected to the celebration of the festival tells the story of an attempt to kill him. According to this legend, while Krishna was still a baby, his evil uncle Kans, the king of winter, sent an ogress by the name Pootana to kill little Krishna with poisoned milk. However, Krishna recognized Pootana and killed her by sucking out all her blood (Galvan 138). This legend initiated the beginning of the ritual of burning the ogress effigy in fire and worshiping the end of winter and the beginning of summer during the Holi festival.

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Another legend that Shiva worshipers associate with the celebration of the Holi festival tells the story of the love between Shiva and Parvati. According to this legend, Parvati implored Kamadeva, who was the god of love, to help her to get Shiva’s attention (“Festivals of India” 9). Shiva was in deep meditation when Kamadeva walked in and shot him with his powerful love arrow. Shiva opened his third eye, rho gaze of which was so powerful that Kamadeva was burned to ashes (“Festivals of India” 9). Shiva and Parvati got married. The legend says that later, on the request of Kamadeva’s wife Rati, Shiva restored her husband back. However, he restored him only as a mental image, which could represent only spiritual and emotional kind of love, rather than physical (“Festivals of India” 9). Thus, for Shiva worshipers, Holi bonfire is the commemoration of this event and the triumph of love.

Another tradition to celebrate Holi is called the Dahi-Handi, which means buttermilk and pot competition (Galvan 138). People take a big pot, fill it with buttermilk, and then hang it somewhere high on a public street. Young boys make human pyramids in order to rich and break the pot (Galvan 138). Young girls try to prevent boys from doing it by throwing colors at them. This tradition represents Krishna’s and his friends’ childish prank of stealing buttermilk.

Special food preparation is an important part in the celebration of Holi. People start preparing food many days before the celebration. They prepare special Indians snacks. In India, traditional Holi food includes gujiyas, which are fried dumplings filled with milk solids; various dried fruits; meat kebobs with special spices; burfi, which is a traditional hard fudge-like candy; and fried bread stuffed with potato and spices, which is called alu kachori (Sen 145). They also prepare a dessert called malpoa, which consists of white flour, milk, sugar, nuts, and raisins (Sen 145). Indians also prepare puran poli and gurpoli, which are sweet pancakes made from the new harvest of sugar and stuffed with lentils and jaggery (Sen 145). The popular drink during the festival is called thandi. It is made out of milk, sugar, almonds, and some herbs.

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Coconut is very important for the celebration Holi. In Hindu culture, coconut is a symbol of new life (Kadodwala 13). Some people fast before Holi, and when the sun sets, they gather around the Holi fire and throw into the fire offerings of coconuts, wheat and other grains, which they bring with them. When the outer shell of the coconuts is charred, they are ready to be shared between worshipers (Kadodwala 13).

In conclusion, festivals like Holi play a significant role in the world culture. They help to unite people and create harmony among members of communities. They are also very important from the psychological perspective because they help people get rid of negative emotions, frustrations, and fill people with new hopes, joy, and happiness.