Holi, the Hindu spring festival mainly celebrated in India and Nepal, is called the Festival of Colours, and signifies the victory of good over evil. It is celebrated over a period of two days; the first known as Holika Dahan, and the second as Rangwali Holi or Dhuleti. It also signifies the official end of winter and gratitude for a good harvest.
The date is determined by the Hindu calendar, and varies from year to year on the Gregorian calendar. Celebrations start in the evening, with a bonfire where people gather, pray and perform religious rituals. The next day is more fun-filled - People play with coloured powders and water, chasing each other with coloured water-filled balloons and indulge in water fights. Carnivals open in several areas, and groups can be seen going place to place, singing, dancing, and playing drums. Different delicacies are prepared particular to the festival. Customary drinks include bhang. In the evening, people dress up and visit their friends and family.
Hindu festivals usually hold a religious significance or a symbolic legend. According to the Bhagvata Purana, King Hiranyakashipu had earned a boon granting him five special powers. They were: He could not be killed either by a human, or an animal, not indoors or outdoors, neither at day, or at night, not by an astra or a shastra, neither on land or in water or air. The power made him arrogant, to the point where he considered himself God and demanded only he be worshipped.
However, his son Prahlada disagreed and remained an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, infuriating him. As he inflicted several brutal punishments on his own son, he could not change his mind or his devotion. Finally, Hiranyakashipu's sister Holika, took matters into her own hands and tricked the boy into sitting in a pyre with her. She wore a cloak which protects her from the fire. However, when the fire scaled, the cloak flew away from her body and covered Prahlada. He lived while his aunt burned to ashes. Soon Lord Vishnu came in the form of Narasimha- half human and half lion, at dusk, took Hiranyakashipu at a doorstep, placed him on his lap and killed him with his lion claws. This is how the festival came to be celebrated as the symbolic victory of good over evil.
Another mythology tells the story of Lord Krishna, and how to play with colours commemorates Radha's divine love for Krishna. The God, as an infant, developed his characteristic dark blue skin colour when she-demon Putana poisoned him with her breast milk. During his youth, Krishna who loved the fair-skinned Radha, despaired over whether she would love him. His mother asks him to approach her and colour her face in any colour he wanted. He does what she says and since then, Radha and Krishna become a couple.
One of the most important activities include the matki phod, where young men form a human pyramid to reach a pot of buttermilk hung high over the streets. Young women try to stop them by throwing coloured water at them. The game is to commemorate Krishna's pranks as a child, and his love for maakhan.