Holi: India’s Forgotten Valentine’s Festival!

Unknown to many, the festival of Holi is actually a celebration of  India’s ancient Valentine’s Day!

It was called ‘The Festival of The Love God,’ and was celebrated to coincide with the arrival of Spring (symbolic of lust and life) just as the western Valentine’s Day is!

Below is an excerpt from my book Sex and Power on this festival:

rati kama redKama, the love god, was [evoked]…in the celebratory tribal songs of the Holi festival…[along] with his consort Rati (sexual pleasure).  His return to life…would be celebrated (each year) during Holi, which coincides with the spring season, [a symbolism of]..rejuvenation and fertility. 

The celebrations were called ‘Mojin Kama’ (Playing with Desire), [also referred to as ‘The Feast of Love’] and entailed songs with erotic lyrics and dances with unabashedly sexual gestures…as people jubilantly doused each other with perfumed water and coloured powders…The sacred text Shaiva Agama instructed that the Feast of Love was to be celebrated with playing (colored) dyes and the use of sexually explicit language.

In this period (100 A.D. to 1500 A.D.)…kama evolved as a complex concept, which besides love, [also included] the notions of love, passion, desire and sensuality. In fact, kama became a predominant philosophy of this era, influencing all aspects of life, including religion.

 Lord Kama came to be regarded as the divine inspiration for humanity. The concept of kama as love-making was said to have been propagated by the gods themselves. It was believed to be their gift to humankind…

rati-kamaIndeed, sensuality in this period became the quintessence of general living. There were architectural structures that were specifically designed to pander to love-making, customarily used in both public and private spaces. The homes of the middle class would have love chambers…[whose] decor included erotic sculptures in wood and stone, sensual paintings, and images of  Rati carved on the doorways.  The rooms were sprayed with fragrance, decorated with flowers and furnished with large canopied beds…, musical instruments, books of sensual poetry and literature…so lovers could spend many leisurely hours…engaged in the game of seduction…

Palaces were more lavish in their erotic decor… For the nobles and wealthier upper class, it was customary to own what was called ‘a hill for sports.’ This consisted of a hill, sometimes artificially created, with a mansion built on it…The mansions were splendid…[and] a special feature of the mansion was a jeweled bench for love-making…

Public art galleries were also meeting places for lovers…Even public gardens had special provisions for couples, with wooden pavilions constructed under bowers of vines or leaves where lovers could spend time. These love nests, which held special couches, were supplied with aphrodisiacs, ivory-handled fans and scented water to create a romantic ambiance.

In terms of social etiquette, it was permissible for people to revel openly in the pleasures of their sex life. Love bites were worn like trophies by young men and women, to be shown off later to friends as proof of their lover’s passion...

[Excerpt from Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies, Penguin Global, 2009, pp.125-130]

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