Holi Celebrates Our Renovation After Burning ...

... of the bad around us in the Holika bonfire. What does Bhavishya Purana say about Holi festival. Its commemoration in two different states, far from one another - Uttar Pradesh in the north and Tamilnadu in the south.

Radha and her companions during HoliHoli celebration - Kangra painting c1788

This festival happens in the last month of Chandramana calendar - Phaalguna (Sanskrit), Fagun (Hindi). (Feb/Mar). The main event happens around Purnima of that month. It marks the end of winter.

In Bhavishya Purana

A chapter in Bhavishya Purana details this festival. It starts with a story to define the origins.

Once people approached King Raghu complaining "a Raakshasi named Dhaundhaa is troubling our children. We are unable to overcome this. Please help us."

Turns out that, Dhaundhaa had obtained a boon from Lord Shiva. That effectively made her unkillable.

However, there was a catch to the immortality (you saw that coming, didn't you !). An exit clause - as it is said in business paralance :-)

Lord Shiva when he granted her wish, added that, she should fear the mad and the children. She then goes on to get hold of the children by shouting 'Adaadaa'.

Rishi Vasishta suggests a way to get rid of her. "Today is Phaalguna Purnima. This marks the end of cold season."

"Tonight, let the children enthusiastically collect firewood. Let Agni be lit as prescribed while chanting Rakshoghna mantra."

"Let them then shout, clap, laugh and sing while doing Pradakshina of Agni three times. The noise of the children would drive away the Raakshasi."

King Raghu then arranged for the bonfire. And the Raakshasi was driven away.

Since then the bonfire is known by the names Adaadaa and Holika. This Agni removes all evil and all diseases.

Before igniting the Holika, ones house is purified with Gomaya. Older children hold swords and touch the firewood. This protects them. Later the children are fed Guda (jaggery) and Pakvaanna (snacks).

Mango Flowers and Sandal PasteBhavishya Purana says Mango flowers and Sandal paste is to be eaten on the day after Phaalguna Purnima

The Purana then goes on to describe the next day morning festivities.

The place of the previous night's Holika fire is worshiped. And its ashes applied on oneself and around the house.

Then, a puja to Manmatha is performed. The lady of the house is also worshiped.

Mango flowers and Chandana (sandal paste) are eaten. Gifts are given and food served to visitors.

Holi in Recent Past

Holi: India map with two places marked with two different narratives of its observancePhaalguna (Fagun) Purnima narrative in Titanpaar up north and Erattawadi down south

The Phaalguna Purnima is celebrated in many Indian traditions. Even in Tamilnadu. But first let us see it in the north.

I asked my friend, Dwarika Singh, how this festival was celebrated in his native village. Here is a paraphrase of what he said:

My native village is Titanpaar near Gorakhpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh (Purvaanchal).

Preparations for Holi begins a month before, when Fagun begins. Children go every day to each household and collect wood for sambat (Holika fire). During firewood collection, they would shout slogans.

Every night of the Fagun month, Fagua is sung. Fagua are Holi songs sung during this month.

The Fagua is hosted by the richer houses of the village. Each night people gather to sing Fagua.

There are two types of Fagua. One that is sung sitting - Bhaithaki and another that is sung standing/dancing - Khadekari.

There are competitions between the males and females of the group. Songs are to be sung without repeating. The loser is the one who does not know any further Fagua songs.

During these Fagua nights, hosts make eatables like Gujiyaa, Sukhiyaa and Gulgulaa. Bhaang mixed in Tandaai or sugarcane juice used to be available in plenty.

During the winter months Ugatan (powdered mustard paste) is used for body massages. This would eventually dry up and fall off. This would be collected and kept away.

Sambat. Holika. BonfireSambat (Holika) burning

The day of Holika burning, people would also give away this used up Ugatan to be burnt in the Sambat.

On the Purnima night, the Panditji would perform puja to the collected firewood and light the fire.

Around this time is the wheat harvesting season. Fresh bunch of the harvest would also be partially burnt and this part-burnt bunch is hung in the entrance of the house.


Early next morning, the ash from the burnt Holika fire is smeared on each other's faces.

A mud slush would have been made the previous day. To make the mud slush, a pit is dug. A kind of clay that has medicinal value is filled in those pits. Also gobar is added to it along with water. Thus a mud slush is ready (kichad).

After breakfast, starts the play in these kichad. People push each other into this slush, splash mud on each other. This would go on till lunch time.

After lunch was the time for play with colors. Like the play with clay, colors used to be splashed on each other.

The Bania community used to make and sell these colors to the village. And all of them were natural colors. Mostly extracted from flowers like Tesu.

This concluded the month long festivities of Holi.

Manmatha Dahanam

In the Kaveri delta region of Tamilnadu, the same Phaalguna Purnima is observed as Manmatha Dahanam or Kaam-T (burning of Manmatha).

In the past, this happened in almost all villages of the region. These days only a few do it. And that too on the initiative of a few individuals.

I spoke to Shri Govindan of Erattavaadi village, near Kodavasal and here is a summary of what he said:

This commemorates Shiva's burning of Manmatha, when Manmatha disturbs his meditation.

After the burning, Shiva sees an unhappy Rati (Manmatha's wife). Shiva says that Manmatha will be visible to her. And only to her.

For a few nights previous to the Purnima, Manmatha and Rati are worshiped every night. A procession goes around the streets of the village. Actors dress as Manmatha and Rati.

On the Purnima night after the procession through streets, the bonfire is lit. Laavani is sung.

Laavani is a set of Tamil songs sung during Manmatha Dahanam. It is in the form of a conversation (debate ?).

Did Manmatha burn ? There are two sides. One side sings, taking the stand that he did burn. The other side, counters it by singing that he did not burn.

By the time this ends, it is early morning. People then take a bath. A couple of days later, milk is sprinkled on the ashes to complete the rites.


Also, here is another narration of why and how Holi is celebrated.

It is interesting to see similarities and variations. We have "a long long ago" version from Bhavishya Purana. And recent versions of Holi festival.

› Holi

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