Holi: the festival of colorrrishous fun.
WHERE: Mostly the north half of India.
WHEN: Day after the first full moon in March (usually.)
WHY: Well, there are many reasons. The more mundane ones are that HOLI signifies the end of winter, the Spring harvest and bounty. Mythologically, HOLI can be attributed to:
1. The immolation of the demoness HOLIKA, who on behest of her demon-king brother, HIRANYAKASHIPU, tried to assassinate her nephew, PRAHALAD, a devotee of LORD VISHNU. Vishnu saves Prahalad and sets aflame HOLIKA instead. The good old Good vs. Evil myth.
2. Another one is how a bunch of kids from the village of PRTHU, supernaturally aided by LORD SHIVA, managed to run-off a big, bad ogress DHUNDHI.
3. HOLI-day is also the day when LORD SHIVA (the god of destruction) opened his THIRD EYE and set fire to LORD KAMA (the god of love) for interfering in his business.
4. MY favorite by far of these HOLI myths is about KRISHNA-RADHA.
Out of jealousy, the young Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) asked his mother YASHODA why Radha (a village belle and his first love...some say his only great love) was so pretty and fair and he so dark. Yashoda shook her head in exasperation and told him to go paint Radha's face to match his own or vice versa. Krishna, always willing to play mischief on the village belles, thoroughly enjoyed coloring Radha with red mud from the banks of the river. And so, to this day, the great love of Krishna-Radha is celebrated on HOLI with GULAL, dance and music. Not to mention, BHANG (a drink prepared from the leaves and flowers of Cannabis.)
HOW: In earlier times, Gulal was made from the flowers of a tree called the FLAME OF THE FOREST. Quite apt, as Gulal is mostly the colors of fire: red, orange, saffron, yellow etc. Though, in recent times any and all colors are thrown about. Anyway, the Gulal and AABIR (made from natural colored talc) that were used in medieval times were actually good for the complexion and not the synthetic, chemical powders of today that sometimes cause allergic reactions on skin. Then there's the PICHKARI, elaborate water pistols, to soak the color into the HOLI-players, who in their white outfits are like canvases just waiting to be color-splashed by artists.
Hordes of happy people on the streets, colors, song, dance, water-fights...Yes, it is as fun as it sounds and is about the only festival of India I truly miss in NY (Don't believe me, watch the video I've posted above.)