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The colors of Holi Holi is the happiest, wildest and most colourful festival of India. This former Spring fertility ritual and agrarian festival celebrating plentiful harvests has kept remnants of its bacchanalian character. Participants love to break taboos and conventions and reverse the role behaviour imparted by a rigid caste society. Photos by ŠBruno Morandi/LightMediation Text by ŽCarisse Busquet


2418-11: India, Uttar Pradesh, Holi festival, color and spring festival, celebrate the love between Krishna and Radha.

Contact - Thierry Tinacci - LightMediation Photo Agency- +33 (0)6 61 80 57 21 thierry@lightmediation.com


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2418-02: India, Uttar Pradesh, colorful face powder used for the Holi spring festival in India, Holi festival, color and spring festival, celebrate the love between Krishna and Radha.

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2418-12: Hundreds of women wear bamboo stick and during Holi, the village women have the freedom to hit men who are only allowed to protect themselves.


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The colors of Holi As soon as you mention this name a smile will appear on the face of any Indian. Holi is the happiest, wildest and most colourful festival of India. This former Spring fertility ritual and agrarian festival celebrating plentiful harvests has kept remnants of its bacchanalian character. Participants tend to go overboard and crack ribald jokes; they love to break taboos and conventions and reverse the role behaviour imparted by a rigid caste society. Holi bonfires This festival is named after a she devil called Holika. Holika was the sister of a king of demons, Hiranyakashipu, who had been granted a boon by Brahma after long and extraordinary penances. Hiranyakashipu could not be killed "during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or on sky; neither by a man nor an animal". Full of arrogance this demon king considered himself the equal of any God and expected to be worshipped by all mortal and immortal beings. But his own son Prahlada, a fervent devotee of god Vishnu, refused to comply with his wishes. Furious the demon king tried to kill his son with the help of his sister. He gave him poison, hurled him from the top of a cliff and tried to get him trampled by an elephant. But Prahlada, thanks to the protection of Vishnu, survived all these attempts on his life. Finally he was ordered to sit on a pyre with Holika who was protected from the fire by a magic shawl. But Vishnu whisked away the shawl when the pyre was lit and

covered Prahlada's body. Holika was burnt to death and Prahlada survived. The festival is celebrated all over North India and lasts usually two days. On the night of the full moon of Phagun (which corresponds roughly to beginning or mid March) huge bonfires commemorating the burning of Holika are lit in thousands of villages and towns. Playing the colours The next day, called Dhulheti, the merrymaking starts. From early morning gangs of youth provided with ample stores of gulals (colored powders) and coloured water start roaming in the streets looking for willing victims to splash them with water and smear their faces and bodies. During this festival no one should object being manhandled and transformed into a rainbow where deep reds and blues alternate with yellows, greens and mauves. Only the elderly persons are spared. Girls and women prefer to play Holi at home or with close neighbours because the boys can be rowdy, sing ribald rhymes or songs to them or indulge even in petting if girls happen to go near them. Formerly the boys and men taking part in the merry making used vegetable colours which were supposed to have medicinal properties. Today almost all colours are chemical and often toxic and can provoke serious allergies and damages to the skin. But the youths using these colours do not seem to mind and go on splashing and smearing each other with unbounded energy and enthusiasm. It's usually hot during the month of March which marks the beginning of the short-lived Indian spring. To slake their thirst the Holi revelers drink a lot of thandai, a refreshing drink. In its milder form thandai is made of water, milk, almonds, rose petals, poppy,

cardamom and anise seeds. But the youth often add generous portions of bhang (marijuana leaves crushed into a green paste) or drink alcohol. By the end of the morning or in the early afternoon the gangs start breaking up and the young men head back home, half stumbling because of exhaustion or drunkenness. At home they will go on scrubbing for hours, without much success, the persistent colours deeply ingrained in their skin, a testimony of the day's friendly sparring and encounters. The fight of the amazons According to the Bhagavata Purana (text dating from the 11th -13th century which relates the legend and the feats of Vishnu) Krishna, the eight avatar of Vishnu would have been born in Mathura. For the bhakta, the fervent followers of Krishna, Holi would commemorate the games Krishna played with the gopis, the milkmaids of the Jamuna river. According to another beautiful legend Krishna would have complained one day to his mother about the contrast between his dark skin and the fair colour of his lover Radha. His mother then smeared scarlet colour on Radha's face, thus ushering in the play of colours. During several days processions of men and women performing folk dances go to the numerous temples dedicated to Krishna. Rasiya songs celebrating the eternal love of Krishna and Radha are sung to the rhythm of huge drums known locally as bumbs. Devotees shout ecstatically the names of the immortal lovers "Shri Radhey," "Shri Krishna". Days before the main day of the festival a mock fight between men and women, the lath mar holi, takes place. A century ago W. Crooke, an English ethnologist, described this event, (unchanged till today) which occurs in the vast courtyard of the Radha Rani temple.

ÂŤ The women have their mantles drawn down over their faces, and are armed with long, heavy bamboos with which they deal their opponents many shrewd blows on the head and shoulders. The latter defend themselves as best they can with round leather shields as they dodge in and out amongst the crowd, and now and again have their flight cut off, and are driven back upon the crowd of excited viragos? Whenever the fury of their female assailants appears to be subsiding, it is again excited by the men shouting at them snatches of ribald rhymes." Dulheti marks the grand finale of the festivities. In all the main towns and villages of the region huge crowds gather in front of the temples. From the raised platforms of the temples or the rooftops of houses lining the narrow streets leading to the shrines people throw fistfuls of coloured powders or liquids on passers-by who throw back packets of powder at them or smear the faces of their neighbors. Green, red, yellow, mauve and blue clouds hover in the air turning the streets and squares into a surreal theatre set and the men and women with painted faces into fairy tales characters. The devotees, covered in layers of colored powders and gathered in front of the temple squares pay tributes to the gods with raised hands or make the beautiful gesture of the namaste with their joined palms. There is something very moving and beautiful about this crowd displaying at the same time a noisy cheerfulness and silent devotion, an outburst of energy and religious reverence. But a feeling of happiness prevails because this festival celebrates the love plays of an eternally young and smiling God and his immortal lover, Radha.


The colors of Holi