Cultural events are listed here with basic background details. For specific events, dates, and times, please see the Featured Events on the Cultural Calendar main page.
Holi, the Festival of Colours, celebrates many things; the coming of spring, the blossoming of love, the triumph of good over evil, and the mending of broken relationships to mention a few.
The origins of Holi are ancient and varied, with some accounts dating as far back as the 4th Century CE. One story tells of the demon king Hiranyakashipu, whose awesome power led him to demand worship from all. When his own son Prahlada instead remained devoted to Lord Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu was incensed. Holika, the king’s evil sister, wore a cloak of fire immunity and tricked her nephew into joining her in sitting on a pyre. When great flames erupted around them, Prahlada’s devotion to Vishnu caused the cloak to fly from Holika’s shoulders and wrap around him instead. Holika burned alive while Prahlada remained unscathed.
Another story tells of the love between Lord Krishna and his consort Radha. It is said that when he was young, Krishna lamented to his mother Yashoda that his complexion was so dark when the skin of his love Radha was so fair. Yashoda suggested he could colour Radha’s face any way he liked, and so he smeared the face of his beloved with many bright colours, delighting her and causing her to fall in love.
Holi lasts for a night and a day, starting on the evening of the full moon. This night is known as Holika Dahan, or Chhoti Holi. Bonfires are lit, religious rituals are performed, and people gather and pray that the evil inside them be burned away as Holika was burned.
The following morning is Rangwali Holi, a time of raucous festivity and playful expression of joy. A huge, free for all party where people throw colourful powder and spray coloured water over one another as Krisna coloured Radha long ago. There is music and dancing with the beating of traditional drums in the streets. Everyone joins in, be they rich or poor, old or young, and everyone is fair game!
The colour and exuberance of Holi has made it an immensely popular festival throughout India and wherever Indian migrants have settled throughout the world. In Aotearoa New Zealand the festival has grown in scale over the years and is now a major, highly anticipated celebration with many events organised throughout the country.
Holi begins on the evening of the full moon in the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna, which corresponds to February/March in the Gregorian calendar.