Braj mein hori khelat Nandlal.

Kesar rang ki keech bhai hai,
Chahun or udat gulal,
Nachat gopal.

Braj mein hori khelat Nandlal.

Baajat jhanjhar, dhol, majari aur khartal,
Braj ki nari sangh hori khelat,
Nachat dede taal, sakhi.

Braj mein hori khelat Nandlal.

(This song sung by women describes Nandlal, as young Krishna is called, playing hori with the women of Brajbhoomi – the area comprising Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul and Barsana that are associated with Krishna and Radha. ‘Red colour is flying in all directions and the mud has turned slushy with saffron coloured water. Friend, dance to the beat as Nandlal is playing hori’ – so the song goes.)

The Song of Hori or Happiness [Mughal miniature print, courtesy National Museum, New Delhi]
The Song of Hori or Happiness [Mughal miniature print, courtesy National Museum, New Delhi]

Holi – the word was originally hori or happiness in Brajbhasha, a dialect of Hindi language. In fact, in Braj, people still call Holi, Hori. The verse above happens to be the hori, as the song of Holi is called.

So how and when did Hori change to Holi? And why did the people call it Hori in the first place?

There are many myths surrounding this question and many of them link the festival to Krishna, right from the day this son of Devaki and Vasudev was brought to Gokul as an infant and placed in the care of foster parents. Born in a prison in Mathura during the night, he was taken away by his father to escape the wrath of his uncle, King Kans.

Time passed. The people of Gokul had just harvested a good wheat and gram crop – the first of the season. Winter was on its way out, the spring flowers were budding and it was a full moon day. Also, it was the month of chait or the first month of the Hindu year. Since everything around them gave the message of new life and the Nand household had an heir after a long time, the people of Gokul decided to celebrate.

So wheat and gram were roasted, flowers of different colours were powdered and the women prepared sweetmeats. There was great singing and dancing to the beats of the dholak (the two-sided drum).

This became an annual ritual following the harvest and Hori became a festival. Old timers recount that in Uttar Pradesh, there used to be only two harvests – one in March and the other around July.

With time, more and more myths got attached to Holi. It came to symbolise the triumph of good over evil when King Hiranyakashyap decided to burn his son, Prahlad, alive. The king made Prahlad sit on his aunt’s lap in a pyre. His aunt, Holika, had been granted the boon of not burning in fire. However, Holika died, while Prahlad lived, unhurt.

Ever since then, the custom of burning Holika began. And Hori got another name – Holi. However, the hori song remained. It still speaks of the boy Krishna, though over a period of time the hori has acquired new shades – from folk to classical and semi-classical styles.

511 words | 5 minutes
Readability: Grade 6 (11-12 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: festivals
Tags: #krishna, #happiness, #holika, #mathura, #myths, #wheat

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