People are ready to smear the annual dash of colours to their lives, writes NIVEDITA GANGULYIt is that time of the year when nature casts off winter's gloom. The gulmohar and mango trees begin to flower in glorious colours. When the warmth of the bright sun filters though winter's cold, it is also time for the festival of joy, fun and buoyancy - Holi. Screaming pink, bright red, shining yellow or grasshopper green - people are ready to smear the annual dash of colours to their lives and drown in the mirthful revelry of the festival of colours. A celebration of life and a festival signifying the arrival of the effervescent spirit of spring, Holi has transcended all barriers and is enjoyed and celebrated by all with equal zest and vitality. The joyful spirit of the festival spreads across most shops and markets that have geared up with all the paraphernalia like pichkaris, gulals and many other products specially rolled out for the occasion.Essentially a North Indian festival, it has been a while since the festival's presence has been felt in South India. Today, Gujaratis, Marwaris, Sindhis, Punjabis and Bengalis in the city have still retained their customs and bring in the festival in their own colourful way.The Rajasthani Sanskritic Mandal celebrates the festival with a lot of fervour. The celebrations start a week in advance. A day before Holi, the `holika' that is a pile of wood is burned signifying the end of evil. The women fast on this day and perform puja before the `holika'. More than 5,000 North Indian families celebrate the festival in the city. In these times where stress-filled work dominates a person's life, Holi provides the ideal opportunity to unwind.
CelebrationsPoet and Noble laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, revived the spirit of Holi in India as the spring festival or Vasant Utsav at Shantiniketan. Boys and girls joyfully welcome spring, the season of hope, not just with colours but with songs, dance, chanting of hymns in the serene ambiance of Shantiniketan. They welcome spring by staging various aspects of this joyous festival in an artistic manner. Later, all the students and teachers play Holi with coloured powders and smear each other's faces with red, yellows and greens. Vasantha Utsav is now so renowned that it even attracts international tourists. In Haryana, Maharashtra and Gujarat, a pot of buttermilk is hung high on the streets and young boys try to reach it and break it by making human pyramids while the girls try to stop them by throwing coloured water on them to commemorate the pranks of Krishna and cowherd boys to steal butter and `gopikas' trying to stop them. The people of Orissa celebrate Holi in a similar manner but here the idols of Lord Jagannath replace the idols of Krishna and Radha.Manipuris in northeastern part of India celebrate Holi for six days. Traditionally, youths at night perform a group folk dance called 'thaabal chongba' on the full moon night of Phalgun along with folk songs and rhythmic beats of the indigenous drum. However, this moonlight party now has modern bands and fluorescent lamps and a bonfire of a thatched hut of hay and twigs is arranged. However, this year such moonlight parties would be on low key since a lunar eclipse is said to fall on Holi night.
PrecautionsWith spirits soaring high, there are some precautions that should be taken by everyone to protect the skin and hair from the harsh chemicals of colours. Traditionally the colours known as gulal were made at home from the flowers of `tesu' or `palash' (flame of the forest). Turmeric, `mehendi' and banana leaves were also used to extract beautiful hues. The colours used now have many chemical ingredients that are hazardous to health. While gulals or dry powder colours are a safe choice, a range of herbal colours is also available in the market. Made from flower petals and other herbs, they are available in vibrant colours. Skin experts suggest the use of an antiseptic cream or lacto-calamine ointment for hypersensitive skins before venturing out. While a coat of oil is a must, sunscreen lotions help against burns if there is prolonged exposure to the sun.