History of Holi: Mythology, Origin and Legends

Holi is famously known as the festival of colors is one of the much awaited among all. People from around the world know India by its major two festivals that are Holi and Diwali. Since these two festivities have numerous interesting mythological stories and traditional folklore's to talk about. However, this auspicious festival is celebrated not only by the Hindus but people from different parts of the world have also started observing it. We too celebrate this day with too much pomp and show but many of us must not be aware about the holi mythology, legends and rituals associated.


It is said that the festivals of color Holi existed several centuries before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the years. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped.

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Legend Of Holika and Prahlad

puja-vidh-holi

The most widely known story among people is this part of mythology. Hiranyakashyap was an over ambitious demon king who had ordered his kingdom to pray and worship only him. But, to his disappointment his son Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Narayana. A day came when Hiranyakashyap set his son Prahlad on fire along with Holika. She was the demons sister who had a boon of not burning in fire and hence Hiranyakashyap had assigned her the task to see to it that Prahlad turns into ashes. Instead, something unexpected happened. The immense devotion of Prahlad made Lord Narayana save the child and Holika burnt in the fire. Hence, this day is celebrated as Holi for the victory of good over evil.

Legend Of Radha Krishna

Lord Krishna was so naughty and puckish. Mythology narrates, in his young days; he used to be very upset about his beloved Radha being too fair in comparison to him. Once Lord Krishna complained to her mother Yashoda about Radha’s very fair complexion and questioned about his dark colored-skin. He also felt that nature has done a kind of injustice to him. Yashoda secretly suggested Krishna color Radha’s face playfully with any dark color (blue, violet or purple) of his choice on her white face. Lord Krishna liked this idea of putting color on Radha and hence implemented it. Thus, the moment when Krishna approached Radha and applied colors on her beautiful face is the start of their love, devotion and the companionship and hence marked this varicolored festivity to HOLI. This loving act of Lord Krishna is celebrated as the festival of colors, later on.

Legend Of Kaamadeva

When Lord Shiva was in deep depression after Sati’s death and was disconnected from the worldly happenings, Lord Kaamadeva shot a love arrow on him. The raged Shiva burnt Kaamadeva into ashes, though he later revived him on Rati- Kaamadeva’s wife’s request.

Legend Of Dhundhi

There was once an ogress in the kingdom of Raghu who used to eat children. She was made to flee away by a group of boys celebrating noisily and chanting mantras around the fire. From this legend comes the ritual of putting a bonfire in the evening of Holi. It is believed that the bonfire will chase away all the negative energies around.

Legend Of Pootana

Lord Krishna’s devil uncle ‘Kansa’ sent Pootana a female demon to kill the baby Krishna. She went forward to feed the baby milk from her breasts which had poison in it. Krishna - the clever baby, started sucking blood out of her, revealing and then killing her.

Holi in Ancient Hindu Inscriptions

Early Vedas and Puranas such as 'Narad Purana' and 'Bhavishya Purana' have a detailed description of Holi. Archeologists excavated a 300 BC stone at Ramgarh which has the mention of 'Holikotsav', meaning the celebration of Holi inscribed on it. This hints that Holi was originated even before the birth of Christ. Many other ancient references include King Harsha's 'Ratnavali' which talks about Holikotsav.

Holi in Ancient Paintings and Frescoes

Some ancient temples in various parts of India contain sculptures on their walls illustrating Holi celebrations. A 16th century painting discovered in Ahmednagar is on the theme of Vasanta Ragini - spring song or music.

The famous Muslim tourist

Ulbaruni too has mentioned about holikotsav in his historical memories. Other Muslim writers of that period have mentioned, that holikotsav were not only celebrated by the Hindus but also by the Muslims. 

There are a lot of other paintings and murals in the temples of medieval India which provide a pictoral description of Holi. For instance, a Mewar painting (circa 1755) shows the Maharana with his courtiers. While the ruler is bestowing gifts on some people, a merry dance is on, and in the center is a tank filled with colored water. Also, a Bundi miniature shows a king seated on a tusker and from a balcony above some damsels are showering gulal (colored powders) on him.

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