Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 6 June 2020

51 pictures of Holi being celebrated around India: festival of colour carries on despite coronavirus

A collection of snaps from the past week's celebrations across India, and in Nepal

Despite global concerns over coronavirus, the festival of colour, Holi, carried on throughout much of India and Nepal this week. However, celebrations were more muted this year.

Avoid participating in large gatherings," the Ministry of Health said in notice warning of the danger of the virus, while wishing everyone a "Happy and Safe Holi".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said he would not celebrate Holi this year. Shopkeepers said rumours that the coloured powders and dyes revellers use in the festival were imported from China had hurt their sales. The virus originated in China late last year.

"Customers are down by at least 50 to 60 per cent," Suresh Singh, a shopkeeper in Lucknow told Reuters, who sells the powders and dyes.

Holi is observed at the end of the winter season on the last full moon of the lunar month, which this year, landed on Monday, March 9. But really, it's a festival that carries on across a whole week...

What is Holi?

The religious aspect of Holi has its origins in an age-old story, in which evil is embodied in the form of Hiranyakashipu, king of the demons, and his malicious sister, Holika. As a result of a divine blessing, the king cannot be killed by night or by day; on the ground or in the air; neither inside nor outdoors; and not by a weapon or by a proverb. The king arrogantly abuses this immunity by ordering his subjects to worship him alone and to forsake all other gods.

However, his pious son, Prahalad, continues to worship the god Vishnu in spite of his father's commands. Hiranyakashipu and Holika hatch all kinds of plans to kill Prahalad, and they fail every time. When it seems that neither poison, nor a herd elephants, nor a roomful of snakes can harm Prahalad, Holika lures him, through trickery, on to a burning pyre. She possesses a magical cloak that protects her from the flames, but once in the sea of fire the cloak miraculously ends up on Prahalad, leaving Holika to burn. Then Vishnu appears as an apparition (not a person, nor an animal), at twilight (neither day nor night) and tears at the king with his claws (neither a weapon nor a proverb), having pulled him on to his lap (not on the ground nor in air).

Holi also celebrates both the New Year in the Hindu calendar and the start of spring and the new harvest. It begins on the day that the northern hemisphere tilts towards the sun, the date moving with the lunar calendar - this year's Holi festival, for example, falls on Wednesday, March 20.

How is it traditionally celebrated?

While Holi parties around the world are dominated by a water-and-colour-throwing bash, with music and bonfires, in India storey-long pyres are lit from the night before. The roaring of the flames mingles with the songs of praise sung by the devout: 'Tonight winter is coming to an end, and the demoness Holika will be consumed by fire'.

The next day begins with the tikka (vermilion powder on the forehead, a mark of protection) and is then spent smearing others with coloured powder (gulal), pails of water, water balloons and squirt guns (pichkaris), and, at more rambunctious dos, eggs, milk and tomatoes.

Updated: March 10, 2020 12:41 PM

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