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Splash of Colors and the Smoking Timbers

Splash of Colors and the Smoking Timbers

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Splash…splash…our much awaited Holi festival is here! Rene’s mother joins the discussion on the festival of colors with Papa and Rene. The parents share the facts with Rene about hulika and why people burn the timber, along with the various ways by which holi is celebrated in India.

By Somashis Gupta   |   Photographs by Jaya 

“Papa – Rene Series”

Starring: Triparni Das as Rene

The moment I saw the post in Instagram, I recalled reading Andrew Knight’s research. He said the behavior of a species at a given time is similar to that of a different species of the same time.This was in comparison to the earlier generation of  the same species”. The post was of an elephant who can paint. Andrew concluded that this happens due to extended exposer to a specific environment. But I thought was it that or was it the training which went behind the act.

Such thoughts were churning in my mind when Rene barges in to my study and asks,“Papa is it called ‘holy’ because it is Holy?”

“Darling, it is spelt as holi not holy, and it gets its name from Hulika”, I said.

“Hulika? What on earth is that?I parked my thoughts on evolution for now as I knew a series of never ending questions has begun.

“Hulika is a combination of twowords ‘hu’ meaning ‘offer to fire’ and ‘lika’ which means demon in Sanskrit”, I told her.

“Oh! So ‘hulika’means burning the demon?” She was specific with the pronunciation this time.

“Yes my dear.”

“Ah! Now I remember my friend Deepa told me there was a woman who wanted to kill her nephew or something.” She was talking about the Prahlad story.

“Yes that is a popular belief but Vedas mention about something totally different,” I was referring to verse 18.12 in the ‘Parishishta’ of Atharva Veda.

“What is that Papa?”

“See during the spring season we find lots of tree branches dead. These branches develop bacteria so those are cut and burnt. Hence this practice,” I told her.

“Oh so the dead branches are the demons?”

“More preciously the bacteria like Abies albaPicea abies and Fagus sylvaticaw hich accumulate at the dead branches are the demons,”I corrected.

“Oh! I see, but Papa this festival is all about colors isn’t it?”

“Glad that you asked, theusage of colors this season is an ancient practice to treat the skin.” I always want her to understand the science behind the rituals instead of blindly believing on silly stories.

“There is science in playing holi as well?”

“Yes my dear, you see during winters we get a lot of dead skin isn’t it?”

“Yes Papa. That reminds me please buy me a bottle of moisturizer today.”

“Sure I will,but do you know how the people in ancient times used to take care of their skin?”


“They used natural ingredients like Turmeric, Neem, Bilva, Palas etc. These were used during this season for skin care and that is how the festival of colors started.”

“Ah! Now I understand. But Papa someone told me it is celebrated because of Krishna?”

“Yes Krishna did play a vital role to popularize this festival but holi was played since ages much before Krishna was born.” I continued, “In fact talking of Krishna reminds me to tell you about lathmar holi which is celebrated in Barsana, Uttar Pradesh based on folklore.”

Lathmar holi?”she giggled, “What is that? Do people kick or what?”

“Not kick but beat with lathis (sticks). The girls use sticks to beat the boys who try to put colors.”

“That sounds funny. So how is it related to Krishna?”

“It is believed that Krishna had come to play holi with Radha with his friends. Radha and her sakhis used sticks to beat them, of course playfully, and that is how this tradition began.”

“Interesting and funny, I wish I could see this.”

“Why don’t you see this pictures clicked by Jaya Auntie for the time being.”

Holi 1

Holi 2

Holi 3

“Wow this is nice!” She looked quite amazed.

“Do you know this multicoloured bandwagon is celebrated in 12 different forms and each has its own name?” I asked.

“Really? But I thought bhoot has different names, now even holi?”

“Well our country is an anthropological enigma you see. So would you like to know about the types of holi?”

“Of course, Papa, is that a question to ask?”

“Well Holi in Orissa is called dola and is celebrated for 5-7 days unlike just 2 days in other parts of India. There is even a yatra of Lord Jagannath along with offerings of sweets and abir.

“7 days? So we don’t have to study for 7 days. Let’s shift to Orissa Papa, please please…” She never likes to study her school books.

“If you find dola fascinating wait till you hear this. In Bengal we have two holi. One is Dol Jatra and the other is Basanta Utsav.”

“Wow. Tell me more …”

“It was Tagore’s son Samindranath who started something called ‘Ritu Utsav’ on 18th of January 1907. It was on this occasion where ‘eki labonya purno prano’ was sung for the first time. Tagore later shifted the festival and merged it with holi and called it Basanta Utsav.”

“Is it so?” she seemed quite stunned,“but is it different than holi?”

“You may say so, as in Bengal it is celebrated by singing songs of Tagore and dancing to the tunes and later they play with abir and eat a mandatory kosha mangsho for lunch.”

“Oh!Wow, how cultured. So what is Dol Jatra then?”

“It is believed that Radha and her sakhis were playing around a swing. Krishna smeared her face with phag (powdered colors) and expressed his love for the first time. Dol means swing and Jatra means journey so dol jatra is celebrated in Bengal where swings are decorated and people play with colors around it.”

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“Ah-ha! Romantic Bengal, but do you know what I like the most?” she asked.

“Kosha mangsho?” I guessed.


“Well as expected. Your daughter is just like you.” Rene’s mother commented from the other room.

“You were listening?”I asked as she joins us in my study.

“Do you know in Assam holi is called pakuwah which is a bonanza for two days and in Maharashtra it is Rang Panchami?” Rene’s mother continued, “why don’t you tell her about Simogo and Yaosang?” She said as she handed me a cup of Makaibari.

“Yes, Simogo is Goa’s version of holi, celebrated for 14 days while Yaosang is in Manipur which is celebrated for 6 days. They construct a bamboo hut, place an idol of Chaitanya and chant kirtans and on the sixth day they play with colors,” I said.

“Similarly holi is called Khadi Holi in Uttarakhand, Ukuli in Kerala,and Hola Moholla in Punjab. Each has its own flavor and elements,” Rene’s mother added.

“But tell me something both of you, why do people drink and create nonsense during this festival?” Rene looked concerned.

“Well drinking is a recent addition to the festival. Originally people used to have cannabis or bhang in phagunwa, the version of holi in Bihar.”

“Why so?” Rene asked immediately.

“As the story goes like this – Shiva was in deep meditation. Parvati sought his attention. She failed and asked Kamadeva to help, who in turn shot his arrow of love…”

“So Kamadeva is cupid,” Rene joked.

We all started laughing at this.

“Anyway so that did bring Shiva back from his trance and it is said that this happened on this day of Holi and thus, it is also a celebration of Shiva coming back to the world,” I said.

“And where there’s Shiva, there’s bhang,”Rene’s mother added.

“Wow what a beautiful story. But look at the people now, they think that they can drink and play with synthetic colors and do all kinds of rubbish, what idiots!” Rene said.

“Yes, I agree with you.”

“Anyways, enough of stories and knowledge gathering. Come for lunch both of you.”

“What’s for lunch today?” I asked.

“I made fish with curry leaves, the recipe I saw in East India Story a few weeks back,” Rene’s mother informed.

“Yaaaayyyyyyy!” screamed Rene as she went rushing to the dining room.


JayaPhotographer – Jaya
Painting and photography blends with her keen desire to travel making Jaya a perfect wanderlust. Influenced greatly by Bibhutoushan, she has recently taken up writing as a passion.
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