Fau Purne, these days famously called “Holi” is one of the most vibrant festivals for Nepalese all around the world.
This festival of color is celebrated at the end of Winter, on the last full moon day of Falgun, the Falgun Purnima. According to the Hindu lunisolar calendar month marks the Spring, making the date vary with the lunar cycle. The date typically falls in March, but sometimes in late February of the Gregorian calendar too. As the day is celebrated on the full moon day of Falgun, the 11th month of the Bikram Sambat calendar, hence the festival is also known as “Falgu Purnima” in various parts of Nepal.
The Fau Purne signifies the victory of good over evil. It marks the advent of the Spring season and ushering in the blooming season hence calling it the Spring Festival in some of the South Asian regions. On this festive day, people smear colors and throw water balloons at each other and meet and greet friends and families for the new beginnings. People play with colors and water so it is also known as the “Festival of Colors”.
The Chir Ceremony of Holi
The celebration of this festival begins a week ahead of the official day when the ritual of erecting the “Chir” (A Bamboo Pole) is carried out at the Basantapur area in Kathmandu. The Chir top is decorated with a lot of colorful materials making the Chir look like an umbrella. Women dressed up beautifully in colorful attire carry auspicious objects and offerings while they circle the 32-foot tall Chir, praying for blessings and everyone tosses vermillion powder in the air and on Chir when hoisting it. A group of Manandhar Newars works together to bring in the Chir and erect it on Ashtami (the eighth day of the waxing moon in Falgun). The Chir is taken down and burnt on the evening of Holi at Tundikhel, the open ground in Kathmandu, signaling the end of colorful festivals, and the tradition is known as “Chir Dahan”. (Dahan means combustion.) Chir Dahan is celebrated in a fun and joyful atmosphere with traditional music.
Story of The Chir
According to a legend, during the Malla Regime, three 2-3 foot tall Chir were erected at Mohan Kaji Chowk (now Hanumandhoka), Basantapur and the Narayan Hiti Palace, but after unification, this tradition of erecting only Chir near Gaddi Baithak was introduced by King Prithivi Narayan Shah.
Another component, the umbrella-like structure that is placed at the top of the Chir is made up of bamboo, wires and clothes, and a certain group of Damais (the tailors) helps to sew the clothes together to place them on the umbrella.
Dhaale (pomegranate or mayal) tree is the third important component used in the festival that is placed on the crown of the umbrella structure. The branch is brought from a forest near the Guhyeshwari Temple and later one part is taken for Puja after a gun salute by Gurjuko Paltan and the second part is taken to the Gorkhanath temple in Mrigasthali. The last part is taken to Basantapur where the priests install it on the umbrella at the auspicious time.
The “Chir” apparently symbolizes the “Kadamba tree” on which Lord Krishna would hang clothes of “Gopini’s (the cowherdress) that he stole when those women were bathing in the Jamuna River in Vrindaban, Northern India. The early Mewari manuscript recounts Krishna taunting the bathing Gopinis where he asks the naked Gopinis shivering in the cold water to come and get clothes from him.
Holi Celebration In Hilly Region
The celebration of Holi is classified into two parts, the first part is “Holika Dahan” and the second is the “Rangwali Holi”.
The atmosphere during Holi, almost all towns of Nepal is filled with vivid powdered colors and colorful water. Children start playing with colors and water a week before the actual day. In fact, in earlier years, children and adults too threw water balloons at bypassers, especially girls, in name of Holi in weeks approaching Holi. That resulted in many serious accidents, girls were scared to go out, hence the Government of Nepal strictly banned the pre-Holi activities.
In Nepal, the Holi festival lasts for 2 days. People in the hilly region celebrate the festival on the full moon day while people in Terai, southern Nepal celebrate it on the following day. On both days people smear colors on one another, make parties and enjoy. Children and adults play in separate groups, they use dry colors called abir (vermillion powder), pichkaris (water guns), Lola (water balloons). People also play traditional drums and many other musical instruments while parading the streets while dancing and singing.
“Ghotta” is the main celebratory drink in Holi, which is prepared by a mixture of milk, ghee, and butter with Bhang, the cannabis. Holi has been one of the most celebrated festivals in Nepal after Dashain and Tihar.
Holi Celebration in Terai
Holi in Terai is celebrated a day after the celebration in the hills, inner Madhes, and central hills of Nepal. On the day when one half of Nepal is celebrating Holi, the other half mark it as “Holika Dahan” and exchange colors and ecstasy on the following day. Holi is commemorated for the victory against Demoness Holika.
In this tale, the citizens of king Hiranyakasyapa’s kingdom were divided into two parts, in the support and against of prince Bhakta Prahlad. Prahlad was accused of praying lord Vishnu in the kingdom and palace of King Hiranyakasyapa. Hiranyakasyapa never liked Lord Vishnu and never liked his own son being the devotee of Vishnu. Later Holika (King’s sister) and Prahlad sat on the pyre but the fire refused to burn Prahlad while Holika turned into ashes. In this victory of truth and purity over evil, people celebrate “Holi”. Owing to this historic event, the Holi in Terai is celebrated the day after.
However, there is also another story as to why Terai Holi is celebrated on the next day of Falgun Purnima; because of the “Mithila Parikrama“. Mithila Parikrama is an ancient religious walking following the pathway of Lord Rama and mother Sita. It warps up on the Falgun Poornima and on the next day, Holi is celebrated to commemorate their journey.
“Mithila” is a place where Goddess Sita from epic Ramayana was born, and “Parikrama” means journey, so the two words together mean Journey around the Mithila region.
The Holi celebration is much louder and brighter in the Terai region. The extensive use of colored powder started in the Treta Yuga when Lord Rama won the battle against Demon Ravana, according to Epic Ramayana. The Holi celebrated in Terai is the vivid representation of Holi celebration in Ayodhya, Lord Ram’s Kingdom. Songs sung during Holi in Maithili and Vojpuri languages express the ages-long legacy in their words and melodies. Underneath the waxing moon and along with the traditional musical instruments, Holi gets more and more colorful as the day matures. Ponds’ water is now colorful, big tumblers are filled with Ghotta (traditionally prepared tranquilizing dink made of Baang and milk), and every kitchens in Terai flows the delicious aroma of traditional delicacies like Taruwa (Fried food), Varuwa (stuffed vegetables), and Malpuwas (sweet fried patties).
Dholak, a two-headed hand drum, is the traditional musical instrument in Terai used in delivering messages to villages and also as an alarm for any sort of cultural happenings. Here the song states that a Jogiraa “An average Terai person” who is dancing on the beat of Dholak can hardly manage his beats with the instrument because he is absolutely intoxicated by the holy drink of Holi i.e Ghotta. He travels from one village to another with pure love and compassion. In his ecstasy, he can hardly find the difference between pain and pleasure. He swims into the waves of devotion and humanity. One doesn’t need to get drunk to become a Jogiraa but the exuberant festival demands the next level of brotherhood and compassion.
In many places of Terai, one can also witness “Natuva Dancers” wearing traditional attires. “Natuva” in Terai means traditional dancers who deliver stories through their dance. They can act as both males and females. The tingling orb of the cycle, hay pinnacle on the backyard everything gets colorful in Holi.
“Kanchan Ban Ram khele Holi” (Ram plays Holi in Kanchan Forest) is one of the most sung songs during terai in Holi. In western terai, Holi is also played with soft mud instead of colors. Holi lightens every dismal night.
Myths and Stories of Holi’s Origination
The tradition of celebrating Holi centers around the demonic siblings Holika and Hiranyakashipu. This is one of the most popular stories related to the Festival.
Once there was a powerful demon king named Hiranyakashipu, the name literally translates to “clothed in gold” (hiranya “gold” kashipu “soft cushion”). After performing the hardest penance Hiranyakashipu was given mystical powers by God Brahma, because of which no man or animal, no arms or weapons could kill him neither in nor out of his residence and neither day nor at the night time. The benediction made him arrogant and He considered himself to be like Lord Vishnu and wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship him like the one too. However, his own son, Prahlada, (Bhakta Prahlad) was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and refused to worship his father. Angry with the disobedience of his son, Hiranyakashipu tried killing his son a number of times, but nothing worked. After failing multiple times, he then asked his evil sister, Holika, for help. Demoness Holika like Hiranyakashipu too possessed the special power where she was immune to fire. Holika had a shawl, which would protect her from fire. So, to kill Prahlada, she tricked him into sitting with her on a pyre. She covered herself with the shawl, leaving Prahlad exposed to the fire. As the fire blazed, the shawl flew from Holika’s body and covered Prahlad. Thus Lord Vishnu’s devotee Prahlada got immunity and due to her evil intentions, Holika was rather burned into ashes.
This is why on the eve of Holi, mainly in Terai the “Holika Dahan” ritual is carried out that symbolizes the victory of good over evil.
Shri Krishna’s Raas-Leela
Some people also celebrate the Holi festival to celebrate the devotional love of lovers-duo, Lord Krishna, and Radha.
According to mythology, when Krishna was just a baby, he acquired a distinctive blue skin color after drinking the poisoned breast milk of the demoness Putana. Putana was sent by Krishna’s uncle, Kansa to kill the baby god. Later, when he became young, he would often feel sad about whether the fair-skinned Radha or Gopinis of the Vrindaban village would ever like him because of his dark color. Tired of his desperation, Krishna’s mother, Yashoda, teasingly told him to ask Radha to color his face with some brightly-colored powder. Then after Radha and Krishna became a symbol of divine love, their playfulness of giving each other is called Shri Krishna’s Raas-Leela
Owing to this History of Radha Krishna’s playful act the festival today still retains its flavor of naughtiness, the lovers smeared one another’s faces with bright colors and throw water at each other.
The Aiding Colours
This story is one of the underrated stories and is unknown to many. It is believed that Holi was originally celebrated to protect general people from different skin diseases that occurred due to the change of seasons from winter to spring. Traditionally, the colors used in Holi were made using extracts of flowers and Herbs like Neem, Tumeric, Mehendi, Sindoor, etc. and those natural colors worked as Ayurvedic medicines. The colors made were used to cure skin diseases and also high fever. But nowadays, synesthetic colors made up of dyeing agents used in the Holi festival give skin allergies instead.