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Holi, the spring festival of colour that symbolises life, vitality and vibrancy, will be celebrated on March 17 (the day of the last full moon of winter) by Hindus across the globe, and in Pakistan. Holi signifies the triumph of good over evil and the festivities are marked by bonfires, lit to cleanse evil from the world, while gulal (coloured powders) are sprinkled or sprayed on friends and family.
Food forms an integral part of the festivities and preparations begin weeks prior to the festival. Gujiyas and jalebis are placed in thaalis for the morning pooja, and once the pooja is over, revelry begins. Crowds dance to the beat of dholaks, throwing coloured gulal on friends, family and neighbours; each colour represents a different facet of life; red symbolises purity, green signifies vitality, blue exudes serenity, while yellow represents piety.
Endless glasses of ice-cold thandai are served during the day to refresh the merrymakers; it is made with sugar water, watermelon and muskmelon seeds and topped with almonds and saunf. The more adventurous ones often lace thandai with bhang. Family get-togethers take place later in the day, and mouth-watering aaloo ka lachaas, seviyan, papri, ghevar and laddoos are firm favourites.
Over the years, Holi has evolved into more than a religious festival. Farmers in rural India and Pakistan celebrate it because it heralds the arrival of spring and prosperity, while many believe the day to be auspicious for marriages and to launch new business ventures.
According to the National Botanical Research Institute in India, when gulal is absorbed by the skin or inhaled, it can significantly lessen the occurrence of viral fever and influenza brought on by the changing weather. This is because gulal is made with a variety of herbs such as neem, haldi and dhaak, known for their antibiotic properties.
The festival has spread across Europe and the Americas as a celebration of embracing diversity, and was added to the United Nation’s list of cultural festivals in 2011.
– Ayesha Shaikh
First published in the ADBUZZZZ Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 16, 2014.