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Holi (होली) is a colourful and happy Hindu holiday celebrated primarily in India on the last full moon of the lunar month of Phalguna at the end of the winter season. It falls in either late February or early March. It is also known as the Festival of Colours.
Holi celebrates spring, fertility, good harvests, and the return of bright colours after the drabness of winter. There are records in Sanskrit of Hindus celebrating Holi as far back as the 7th Century but there are some records of a celebration called Holikotsav around 300 B.C. Many temples across the country have paintings that are hundreds of years old, or even older, depicting Holi celebrations.
There are many stories of the origin of Holi. Some involve the demon King Hiranyakashyap and his sister, Holika, and son, Prahlad. Other legends associated with the festival include the legend of Shiva and Kaamadeva and those of Ogress Dhundhi and Pootana. All the stories show the triumph of good over evil, which is another special aspect of this festival.
The festivities of Holi begin close to midnight on the night before Holi with bonfires being lit. Prior to the bonfires, it is traditionally the job of men and boys to collect fallen wood and leaves to burn in the bonfires as a part of the symbol of the end of winter. Some of this tradition is changing today with forest trees unfortunately being cut down for burning.
The colours of Holi are very special and add to the vibrancy of the day. In the past, the colours that were used on people’s skin were natural but many of them now are man-made and some even of dangerous chemicals leaving some people with skin inflammations. During the festivities of Holi, people throw or smear scented, colourful powders over each other.