The Holi festival, known as “Phagu Purnima” in Nepali, is named after the mythical demoness Holika, and is one of the most anticipated annual celebrations in Nepal. A three-day festival of color and joy, Holi is observed on the full moon day, which falls either late February or early March. If you’re fortunate enough to serve on our Nepal Program during Holi, you can celebrate with the youth and staff of the DR Memorial school and children’s home, and participate in events with adults and children in the wider community. Kathmandu surely takes on a new look during Holi!
Day 1 of Holi:
People observe the first festival day by decorating wooden poles and burning them through the night to symbolize the burning of the old year. The erection of a chir (sacred pole) symbolises the tree on which Hindu deity Krishna is said to have hung milkmaids’ clothes while they were bathing in the Jamuna River in India. The women dress in red saris and circle the poles praying for blessings. The custom originated in the Basantapur Durbar Area of Kathmandu, and today the chir is decorated with colorful cloth, reminding the people to prepare for the upcoming celebrations.
Day 2 of Holi:
On the second day, bonfires are lit to symbolize the death of the demon Holika, which signifies good winning over bad. According to mythology, the “devil king,” Hiranyakashyap forced everyone to worship him, however his son Prahlad did not. He was loyal to Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap plotted with his daughter Holika to kill Prahlad by walking through a burning fire. (Holika had been blessed with a resistance to fire) however, due to his devotion to Lord Vishnu, Prahlad survived while his sister Holika was burned to ashes!
Day 3 of Holi:
This iconic day is the one most often seen and reported on in news and in films. It’s a day of color and joy when people gather in masses on the streets, as families and in schools, to celebrate. Colorful water balloons, paint, and perfumed powder are thrown on all present – children and adults, women and men. The powdered pigment (called “gulal”) represents the bonfire of the second day. Each color symbolizes a force in life, and therefore color and life are inseparable. For instance, blue is the color of the revered god in Hinduism, Lord Krishna. Green symbolizes new beginnings, harvest, and fertility, and is also the sacred color of the Muslim community. In addition to throwing colored powder, there are feasts, dancing and singing – with everyone wishing each other, a “Happy Holi” – the festival of friendship, Love and new beginnings!
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