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Holi is one of the most popular and ancient festivals in India. Explore the history and origin of Holi, through this article.

History of Holi

History of Holi
Holi is one of the most ancient festivals in India and was originally named 'Holika’. Celebrated throughout the country with immense zeal and fervor, Holi is also one of the most popular Indian festivals abroad. The celebrations of Holi differ from region to region, however the zeal and gusto with which the festival is welcomed throughout the country remains the same. It is often said that the modern form of Holi was introduced in Mathura and Vridvana by Lord Krishna himself and that is why Holi holds a special significance in the eastern part of the country. Read on this article to explore the origin as well as the history of Holi in the country.

History of Holi
The exact origin of the festival can not be found, though several historians claim that the Holi celebration in the country was brought along with the Aryans. It is also quoted as a reason that Holi is still celebrated with great zeal in the more Aryan dominant Northern and Eastern India. There is also a detailed description of this festival in early religious works such as Jaimini's Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. Several other religious and historical texts also discuss in detail about the festival.

It is said that Holi is celebrated in India, since an immemorial time, even in the period before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the eras and phases. Long ago, Holi was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness, well-being and prosperity of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped for bringing auspiciousness and pleasure. With time the way of celebration has changes. Also, the prominent legends related to the festival have changed with time.

Reference in Ancient Texts and Inscriptions
Holi has a detailed description in the ancient Vedas and Puranas such as ‘Narad Purana’ and ‘Bhavishya Purana’. The festival of Holi also finds detailed descriptions in the Jaimini Mimansa. During an excavation, a stone inscription of 300 BC was found at Ramgarh and this stone inscription has mention of ‘Holikotsav’ i.e. the ‘celebrations of Holi’ written on it. This gives logic to the theories of the historian who believe Holi to be a celebration even before the birth of Christ. Other ancient references like the mention of holikotsav in King Harsha’s Ratnavali written during 7th century and the description of holikotsav in the travelogues of Ulbaruni, support the fact that Holi is not a nascent celebration in the country.

Reference in Ancient Paintings and Murals
Apart from the reference in the religious and historical texts, Holi also finds a reference in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century temple at Hampi, the capital of Vijayanagar (now in Karnataka) has a panel sculpted with the joyous scene of Holi celebrations. This painting illustrates a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids who are waiting with pichkaris to drench the couple in colored water. Another painting on the theme related to Holi, the Vasanta Ragini - spring song or music is found in Ahmednagar in Maharashta. This 16th century painting depicts a royal couple sitting on a huge swing, and several maidens surrounding them playing music and spraying colors with pichkaris.

There are several other illustrations and paintings belonging to medieval India that can be found in the temples and palaces of that era. An interesting painting of Mewar (circa 1755) illustrates the Maharana with his courtiers bestowing gifts and riches on his people while a merry dance is going on. Also, there is water tank filled with colored water in the center of his courtyard. Similarly, a Bundi miniature depicts a king seated on his tusker and some beautiful women showering Gulal (colored powders) on him. These are few of the examples which Holi has been an integral part of the country since ever. It existed here before Christ was born; it continued in the medieval era and is being celebrated in the country till now.