Holi or Basant Utsav is known as the "Festival of Colours". The celebration of Holi signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring and for many a festive day to forget and forgive, repair broken relationships and is also celebrated as a thanksgiving for a good harvest. The first day is known as Holika Dahan (हॊलिका दहन) or Chhoti Holi and the second as Rangwali Holi or Dhulandi.
Holi has a cultural significance among various Hindu traditions of the Indian subcontinent and it is an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia. Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holi bonfire where people gather, do religious rituals in front of the bonfire and pray that their internal evil should be destroyed as the bonfire starts. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi - a free-for-all carnival of colours, where participants play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. People visit family, friends and foes to throw coloured powders on each other and then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks.
The festival has traditionally been also observed by non-Hindus, such as by Jains and Newar Buddhists (Sikhs have traditionally celebrated the festival at least through the 19th century) with its historic texts referring to it as Hola. Shri Guru GobindSingh - the last human guru of the Sikhs – modified Holi with a three day Hola Mohalla extension festival of martial arts. The extension started the day after the Holi festival in Anandpur Sahib, where Sikh soldiers would train in mock battles; compete in horsemanship, athletics, archery and military exercises.
The festival has many purposes; most prominently, it celebrates the beginning of spring. In 17th century literature, it was identified as a festival that celebrated agriculture, commemorated good spring harvests and the fertile land. Hindus believe it is a time of enjoying spring's abundant colours and saying farewell to winter. To many Hindus, Holi festivities mark the beginning of the New Year as well as an occasion to reset and renew ruptured relationships, end conflicts and rid themselves of accumulated emotional impurities from the past.
It also has a religious purpose, symbolically signified by the legend of Holika. The night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) or Little Holi. People gather near fires, sing and dance. The next day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit or Dhulheti or Dhulendi, is celebrated. Children and youth spray coloured powder solutions (Gulal) at each other, laugh and celebrate, while adults smear dry coloured powder (Abeer) on each other's faces. Visitors to homes are first teased with colours then served with Holi delicacies (such as Puranpoli, Dahi-Wada and Gujia), desserts and drinks. After playing with colours and cleaning up, people bathe, put on clean clothes to visit friends and family.
Holi is celebrated in the most dignified manner in the state of Bengal. At Vishwa Bharti University, founded by Rabindranath Tagore founded the tradition of celebrating Holi as 'Basant Utsav' or 'Spring Festival'. Students decorate the campus with intricate rangolis and carry out prabhat pheris in the morning. Clad in traditional attire; young boys and girls sing songs composed by Gurudev and present an enchanting view to the onlookers who gather in large number here. In other parts of Bengal, Holi is celebrated as Dol Yatra where the idols of Radha and Krishna are placed on a decorated palanquin and taken out in a procession.
Well, there are many-many more ways in which Holi is celebrated. Different states, different cities and different villages have come out with their unique and innovative styles of playing Holi. It may not be possible to describe all of them at one place. What is noteworthy though is the fact that the spirit of Holi remains the same throughout. It is the festival which generates the spirit of brotherhood and bring people close - and this is what matters most than anything else.
In earlier times when festival celebrations were not so much commercialized. Holi colors were prepared from the flowers of trees that blossomed during spring, such as the Indian Coral Tree (parijat) and the Flame of the Forest (Kesu), both of which have bright red flowers. These and several other blossoms provided the raw material from which the brilliant shades of Holi colours were made. Most of these trees also had medicinal properties and Holi colors prepared from them were actually beneficial to the skin.
What enhances the spirit of Holi though is the tradition of consuming the intoxicating bhang. It is generally consumed with Thandai or as Pakoras. People go high on it and enjoy the festival to the hilt. Other Holi delicacies include Gujiya, Mathri, Malpua, Puranpoli, Dahi Wadas etc. After a frenzied play of colours people love to gorge them up.