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History of Holee Celebrations

Holee is an ancient festival of India and was originally known as Holikaa, not as Holee. The festival finds a detailed description in early religious works such as Jaimini's Poorv Meemaansaa, Sootra and Kathaka Grihya Sootra. Historians also believe that Holee was celebrated by all Aaryans but more so in the Eastern part of India.

It is said that Holee existed even several centuries before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the years. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the Full Moon (Raakaa) was worshiped. In Northern India women still pray for their son's long life and welfare.

Calculating the Day of Holee
There are two ways of reckoning a lunar month - Poornimaant and Amaant. In the Poornimaant month, the first day starts after the Full Moon; and in the Amaant month the first day of the month starts after the Amaavasyaa (New Moon). Though the Amaant reckoning is more common now, the Poornimaant was very much in vogue in the earlier days.
In Northern India the month still starts after the Full Moon.

According to this Poornimaant month reckoning, Phaalgun Poornimaa was the last day of the year and the New Year heralding the Vasant Ritu (with spring starting from next day). Thus the Full Moon festival of Holikaa gradually became a festival of merrymaking, announcing the commencement of the spring season. This perhaps explains the other names of this festival - Vasant Mahotsav and Kaam Mahotsav.

Reference of Holee in Ancient Texts and Inscriptions
Besides having a detailed description in the Ved and Puraan such as Naarad Puraan and Bhavishya Puraan, the festival of Holee finds a mention in Jaimini Meemaansaa. A stone inscription belonging to 300 BC found at Raamgarh in the province of Vindhya has mention of Holikotsav on it. King Harsh, too has mentioned about Holikotsav in his work Ratnaavalee that was written during the 7th century. The famous Muslim tourist - Al-Baroonee too has mentioned about Holikotsav in his historical memoirs. Other Muslim writers of that period have mentioned that Holikotsav was not only celebrated by the Hindu but also by the Muslims.

Reference in Ancient Paintings and Murals
The festival of Holee also finds a reference in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century panel sculptured in a temple at Hampee, capital of Vijayanagar, shows a joyous scene of Holee. The painting depicts a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids waiting with syringes or Pichakaaree to drench the Royal couple in colored water. A 16th century Ahmednagar painting is on the theme of Vasant Raaginee - spring song or music. It shows a royal couple sitting on a grand swing, while maidens are playing music and spraying colors with their Pichakaaree.

There are a lot of other paintings and murals in the temples of medieval India which provide a pictorial description of Holee. For instance, a Mevaad painting (circa 1755) shows the Mahaaraanaa with his courtiers. While the ruler is bestowing gifts on some people, a merry dance is on, and in the center is a tank filled with colored water. Also, a Boondee miniature shows a king seated on a tusker and from a balcony above some damsels are showering Gulaal (colored powders) on him.



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Created by Sushma Gupta on 3/15/05
Updated on 09/29/13