Art & Culture


As the spring warms the landscape, India cuts loose for Holi, a festival of hi-jinx and general hilarity. Holi is celebrated on the day after the full moon in Phalguna month (March) every year. Holi was a festival to celebrate good harvests and fertility of the land.

As myths run, King (Hiranyakashipu) resents his son Prahlada worshipping Lord Vishnu. He attempts in numerous ways to kill his son but fails each time. Finally, the king’s sister Holika, who is said to be immune to burning, sits with the boy in a huge fire. While the prince Prahlada emerges unscathed, his aunt burns to death. Holi commemorates this event and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation.

This exuberant festival is also associated with the immortal love of Krishna and Radha. Holi is spread over 16 days in Vrundavan and Mathura – the two cities with which Lord Krishna shared a deep affiliation. Apart from the usual fun with coloured powder and water, Holi is marked by vibrant processions, which are accompanied by folk songs and dances.

Bonfires are lit on street corners to cleanse the air of evil spirits and bad vibes, and to symbolise the destruction of the wicked Holika, for whom the festival was named. On the day of Holi, the streets fill with people running, shouting, giggling and splashing. In rural Maharashtra State, where the festival is known as Ranga Panchami it is celebrated with dancing and singing. The celebration of Holi has direct relationship with devotion of Adi Shakthi.

Kudubi and Marathi families, inhabitants of coastal areas in Dakshina Kannada, Udupi and Uttar Kannada districts, celebrate Holi in a special manner. Kudubi and Marathi are the two important tribal communities of the coastal area, having Marathi and Konkani as their mother tongue. However, they are fluent in local languages such as Kannada and Tulu as well. Originally the residents of the Maharashtra and Goa, these tribal communities migrated to Karnataka by notwithstanding the attacks of foreigners. With them they carried their tradition and culture. Hard workers by nature, they settled in coastal nature and some of them owned small pieces of land. Holi is the key festival for Marathis as well as Kudubis.

Both Kudubis and Marathis are organised in small groups identified as ‘Koodukattu’ or ‘Koodalike’. Any decision is taken in the presence of Koodalike. The heads of such groups are called as Gurkar or Gaonkar. Usually Holi is celebrated near the house of a Gurkar or in a place specified by him. They cultivate a (Tulasi) basil plant in front of their house. Marathis adore Tulasi as Bhasmeshwari, while Kudubis respect this plant as Tulasije.

At a particular time on Palguna Shuddha Dashami, members of these communities assemble for celebrating Holi. After all people have arrived, the Darshana Pathri takes a holy bath and makes himself ready for offering pooja in front of the Tulasi. He decorates a coconut and offer Dhoopa, Deepa and Arathi for it. All members touch the coconut before the Pathri places it on the earthen mound of Tulasi. During this ritual people pray for successful completion of the five-day Holi festival. Then they circumambulate the Tulasi plant thrice beating gong (Jagate), sticks (Kolata), eymbals (Thala) and other musical instruments.

Those involve in dance are specially trained for the purpose and are identified as ‘Khele’. They wear very attractive and colourful costumes, resembling those of Yakshaga artistes. Marathis have unique kind of colourful designs for the dance and wear a crown on their head. Kudubis use a sari and tie a shawl on their head. They also use feathers of a bird called Hattimudda to decorate their ‘Peta’. Their songs, based on folklore, have a traditional appeal in them. They seem to be picked from myths such as Ramayana and Mahabharatha and contain the description of Vasantha Ruthu (Spring Season) and some eulogizes of Goddess. The attractive and unique style of dance is recognised as Holi Habbada Kunitha.

Kudubis wander in villages dancing in front of every house. The members of each house welcome these dancers by washing their feet and placing a dot of vermilion on their forehead. They invite the dancers into their houses and offer food. When the satisfied dancers leave the house, they receive gifts in the form of coconuts, money or food grains from the owner of the house. Then they proceed to the next house for performing dance. Kudubi dancers do not return home till the end of the five-day festival, whereas Marathis, who are not so rigid in their tradition, do return home every evening and start off the next morning.

The dance, commenced on Phalguna Shuddha Dashami, continues for five days and comes to an end on the full moon day (Holi Hunnime). On the day of Hunnime, all dancers arrive at the village Temple and worship the god. After that, they assemble at the Koodukattu place, from where they started their dance on Phalguna Shuddha Dashami. Once again they circumambulate (moving in a circle) the Tulasi plant and exchange respects among other members. The dancers take off their costumes. Chaste women spread some straw on the ground and set some fire on it. Then all dancers jump across the fire out of jay and leaves for taking bath. The ritual is called as ‘Kama Dahana’.

When these dancers return from the ponds after having their bath, Chaste women carry out the rituals to neutralise the evil eye (Drushti). The Pathri puts down the coconut and they take the dinner together. Thus, for Kudubis and Marathis, Holi is a festival of happiness, which bounds a strong emotional bond among the members of the community.


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