Originally a fertility festival, this late winter celebration of several days ending with the full moon of Phalguna is named after the demoness Holika. She was in the habit of eating a child each day until a holy widow summoned all the children to curse the demoness together. Amid great hubbub, participants today let out the kind of energy the children must have unleashed on Holika. They throw multicolored powders and liquids on each other, evidently a visual remnant of the children’s curses. By a fascinating process of association, the celebration has also come to embrace the mythological downfall of evil female figures. For example, Krishna destroyed the demoness Putana, whom the evil King Kamsa had sent, disguised as a wet nurse, to kill the infant deity by poisoning him with her breast milk.
Young Indians celebrate Holi in Jaipur, India. (Jeremy Richards / Shutterstock.com.)