Holi is also associated with the immortal love of Krishna and Radha, the day begins with worshipping Krishna by lovingly smearing his idol with 'gulal' - the colours used to play Holi. This is a festival that is as much a gateway to celebrate the arrival of spring as much as it is a way to celebrate the season of love.
Krishna is the ultimate lover with his 'gopikas', who are a bunch of beautiful women that Krishna forever seems to be chasing. And yet this icon of love spends most of his time seeking out his only lover Radha. So Krishna's love is the epitome of the freshness of youth amidst all its playfulness. Without Krishna and his lover Radha there can be no Holi
Krishna's presence in Holi is undisputed. It is said that the festival is also a celebration of the death of Pootna - the demon who nearly killed Lord Krishna. The effigy of Pootna burnt the night before, therefore, ends up signifying death itself just as Pootna typifies winter and darkness.
Legends also associate this festival with the later years of Krishna's amorous life. Depicted in miniature paintings as a festival popular amongst Krishna and his Gopis (milkmaids), Holi has been instrumental in providing colour in many lives.
There are more stories. This is the one about Holika who believed herself to be immuned to death by fire. And yet when she questions her nephew Prahlad's devotion to the ultimate of Gods, Vishnu and threatens to walk through fire with the intention to destroy the prince, she is herself consumed by the fire whereas the prince comes out unscathed. This is the Holika that is burnt the night before Holi as the triumph of the good over evil.
Holi is also an occasion for the celebration of the burning of Kama, the Hindu cupid, with the fire that emanated from Lord Shiva's third eye. But he was brought to life again when his wife, Goddess Parvati, implored Shiva for mercy.
On the Day of Holi
Smearing colours on friends and dear ones is the basic idea of Holi, no one is spared. Both the young and the old enjoy throwing water balloons, dry colours, and washable dyes on anyone in sight on the day of the Holi. People go around in streets, with tin drums, armed with tonnes of colours and big syringes filled with coloured water and at the end of the day no one will even remotely resemble themselves.
Holi is also synonymous with bhang, which is consumed by many in the form of ladoos and ghols. One could get away with almost anything on this day; squirting coloured water on passers-by and dunking friends in the mud pool saying "bura na mano, Holi hai" (don't feel offended, it's Holi). Holi is the time when people from all castes and social strata come together forgetting all past differences and grievances.
The festival is a favourite with most Indians for being the most colourful and joyous of all. Every year it succeeds in bridging the social gap, between employers and employees, men and women. People visit homes, distribute sweets and apply gulal (colour) on each other, signifying the colourful and happy spring times ahead. They greet each other, embracing three times.
Apart from this usual fun with coloured powder and water, Holi is marked by vibrant processions, which are accompanied by folk songs, dances and a general sense of abandoned gaiety.
Celebrations in Maharashtra
In Maharashtra a grand procession of men soaked with coloured water walks through the streets shouting 'Govinda Alha Re Alha, Zara Matki Sambhal Brijbala'' or 'Here comes Govinda (another name of Krishna), take care of your pots of butter and milk, oh girls from Brij'. This refers to Krishna's habit of stealing butter and milk stored in terracotta pots from people's homes. As a child, Krishna was extremely fond of milk and milk products. He would prowl into any accessible house with his friends and steal pots of butter or break pots of milk.
Along the coastline of Maharashtra, men and women get together in a special dance that is meant to provide them with a release from all their repressed feelings, needs and desires. These dancers utter a peculiar sound made by striking their mouths with the back of their hands.