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Colourful history of Holi. O yea!

Afternoon of Holi day is the best time to be driving down roads of Delhi and the roads of its many satellite towns. The roads look deserted, there are fewer cars, there's almost no traffic, these roads are almost unrecognizable. Occasionally you see groups of people, migrant workers, painted pink, little drunk, walking or cycling back home.

In Kashmir, the Holi celebrations of security men used to quite a spectacle for both the local Muslims and the Hindus. By the time the celebrations used to end, which usually meant afternoon, these men could be seen lying inebriated on the road sides and in the ditches.

Holi has been celebrated like this for quite sometime now.

During the Huli, when all business is laid aside, and the Hindus of Northern India are sometimes inebriated for weeks, and give themselves up to all kinds of revelry in their Zenanas, Ranjit Singh had as little scruple as any other Sirdar of the Panjab, to appear openly mast or drunk, and exhibited himself in the streets of Lahor with several females riding on an elephant; while the people thought none the worse of him for this, and set it down as his manner of celebrating the Huli.
- Travels in Kashmir And The Panjab, from German of Baron Charles Hugel with notes and translation by Major T.B. Jervis, F.R.S. Published 1945 (page 383)

Baron Charles (Carl, Karl) Alexander Anselm von Hügel  wrote this while visiting Punjab in around 1835. In in the same book he gives a wonderful description (although he got the origin of Holi a bit wrong, the bit about Krishna and Sita - it should be Krishna and Radha) of how holi celebration were conducted in Northern India of that era.
Page 311 of the book reads:

This Hindu festival, as I have said, is in honour of Krishna, and represents the manner in which he and his beloved Sita, with their companions amused themselves. A quantity of Singhara meal dyed yellow, green, red, and blue, is put into large baskets, and mixed up with little pieces of gold and silver tinsel, a number of large pots of water dyed with the same colours, and little water-engines being set near. Every one appears in white garments, and the festival commences, by the dancing girls sitting down, and breaking forth into a song in honour of the feast. The baskets of coloured meal are then introduced, and thin glass balls full of Singhara powder, are distributed to the assembly, which they throw at each other, and being broken with the slightest force discharge their contents on the white dresses, and stain them. Like all games of this description, these begin gently, but soon assume a rougher aspect, each player seizing as many balls as he can, and flinging them at one another. When the glass balls are exhausted, they take the coloured meal, first, as much as the fingers can hold, then by handfuls, and at last they empty the baskets over each other's heads, covering the whole person. The dirtiest part of the entertainment consists in the sprinkling with the coloured waters. In great houses the Hull is often held in the Zenana, and on those occasions the women are allowed to be present. Spirits are drank, and the amusements are then carried far beyond our European ideas of propriety, but the Hindu thinks no harm of them. 

Image: Some reader (researcher) at Oxford  really enjoyed these lines. A page from this book available at Google Books


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