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The Hindu festival Holi, also known as the festival of colours, marks the beginning of the spring season in the Indian subcontinent.

Millions of Hindus around the world are preparing to celebrate Holi, also known as the festival of colours.

The festival marks the beginning of the spring season in the Indian subcontinent.

Here is what we know about the celebrations this year:

When is Holi celebrated?

Holi is celebrated in Phagun, the 12th month of the Hindu calendar, which corresponds to February or March in the Gregorian calendar. This year, the festival will be celebrated on March 18, though the festivities tend to run longer in some places.

With a significant fall in COVID cases after two years of battling the coronavirus in India, millions of people are getting ready to celebrate after last year’s muted festivities.

What’s the story behind Holi?

Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil and there are various stories about its origin.

The most popular legend in Hindu mythology says the festival marks Lord Vishnu’s triumph over King Hiranyakashyapu, who killed anyone who disobeyed him or worshipped other gods.

The king had a son called Prahlad who never worshipped his father and worshipped Vishnu instead. Hiranyakashyapu was so displeased that he conspired with his sister Holika to kill his son.

Holika agreed to kill her nephew, luring Prahlad into a pyre and trying to burn him. However, Vishnu came to Prahlad’s rescue and Holika ended up burning in the pyre.

To this day, Hindu devotees celebrate Holika Dahan on the eve of Holi to mark the event by making bonfires in their neighbourhoods.

Indians perform rituals around a bonfire during Holi festival celebrations in Ahmedabad, India, Sunday, March 28, 2021. Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, also marks the advent of spring. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
People celebrate Holika Dahan by lighting a bonfire on the eve of Holi in Ahmedabad, India [File: Ajit Solanki/AP]

How long does Holi last?

The celebration of Holi usually lasts for two days, with Holika Dahan and a day of throwing colours on each other being its highlights.

On the day of Holi, people of all ages take to the streets to smear each other with dry or wet paint and get showered in powdered colour and water. There is a lot of dancing and singing.

“People even stand on their rooftops to throw water balloons on random people walking on the streets,” Sashreek Garg, who comes from Una in India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s my favourite festival. It binds people, cultures and even strangers together. Now that I am away from home I miss that feeling of coming together,” said Garg, who is currently a university student in Qatar.

Indian children throw colored water on each other during Holi festival in Mumbai, India, Monday, March 29, 2021. Hindus threw colored powder and sprayed water in massive Holi celebrations Monday despite many Indian states restricting gatherings to try to contain a coronavirus resurgence rippling across the country. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)
Children throw coloured water on each other during Holi festival in Mumbai [File: Rajanish Kakade/AP]

Vaamika Shrivastava, another Indian from the central Madhya Pradesh state, also says Holi brings people together and that the festival has outgrown its religious boundaries.

Shrivastava says she lived in various places in India and everywhere she saw one constant: Holi.

“In every new place we lived, we used to have Holi parties in an open area in the neighbourhood with lots of colours, water guns and music and it was a party for everyone,” she told Al Jazeera.

“Holi is more than just the religion it comes from. It is about love and celebrating the colours of life at the onset of spring.”

An Indian woman's face is smeared with color by others during celebrations to mark Holi in Prayagraj, India, Monday, March 29, 2021. Hindus threw colored powder and sprayed water in massive Holi celebrations Monday despite many Indian states restricting gatherings to try to contain a coronavirus resurgence rippling across the country. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Holi is also celebrated in other South Asian countries like Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh which have a sizeable Hindu population [File: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP]

Where is Holi celebrated?

Holi is celebrated in most parts of India, with each region having its own traditions. The celebrations in northern India tend to be more colourful and vivid while those in the south focus mainly on religious and temple rituals.

However, even among the northern states, there is a difference in how long the celebrations last and what people do. Garg, for instance, has never participated in a Holika Dahan bonfire on the eve of Holi. “In Himachal, we don’t do bonfires,” he said.

Andre Visperas is a Hindu practitioner from the Philippines. He said he celebrated Holi for the first time when he went to India for a pilgrimage in Uttar Pradesh state in 2009.

“Before that, I celebrated Holi on my own but I only celebrated the spiritual aspect of it rather than the celebratory traditions such as the throwing of coloured powder,” Visperas told Al Jazeera.

Holi is also celebrated in other South Asian countries like Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh which have a sizeable Hindu population. It is also celebrated by the Hindu diaspora in various countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

Revelers smear colored powder on a girl during Holi celebratipons in Gauhati, India, Monday, March 9, 2020. Holi, the festival of colors heralds the arrival of spring. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
A woman’s face is smeared with colour during Holi celebrations in Prayagraj, India [File: Anupam Nath/AP]

Source: Al Jazeera

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