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Feb 22

Written by: Jayanthi
Monday, February 22, 2010

Holi in a Different Hue: Exploring Connections to Holi in Kerala

Holi is February 28, 2010

By Jennifer Kumar

This article was first published on Cheryl Snell's blog 'Shiva's Arms' in March 2008.
See this post on Cheryl's blog.

Cheryl is an American married to a Malayalee (like me) and has written a novel on the
topic of an American marrying into a South Indian family. It's a great book!
Highly recommended.

If one wants to celebrate Holi in all its colored splendor, a trip to almost anywhere in North India during the Holi season in March is the first choice. Though Holi is celebrated all over India, South India, in particular Kerala, is not famous for Holi revelry. But, Holi exists in Kerala. Some communities celebrate Holi under the name of Holi and it is every bit reminiscent of Holi in the North, while other communities, especially in the Palakkad District of Northern Kerala, celebrate during this time under auspices of Pooram, Poorakkalam and Pooramkuli.

Talking to someone who has celebrated Pooramkuli, it is clear that the three festivals of Pooramkuli, Pooram, and Poorakkalam are loosely connected, and that it is not popularly equated with Holi. It is true that as I learned more about these three regional festivities, if I had not known Holi falls at the same time, I would never have formed such a theory, but to me, there are at least two common threads that encourage me to believe these festivals originate from a similar source.

Hues of the Same Colors?

In examining the legends or stories of Holi, there are four main themes - Holika, Invincible Dhundhi, Radha Krishna, and the story of Lord Kamadeva. I propose that both Lord Kamadev and the Invincible Dhundhi form common threads between Holi and the festivities of Palakkad.

Sudha Gopalakrishnan, who reported on Pooram, believed that the week long Pooram festival “celebrates the spirit of love.” This festival occurs in the change of season from winter to spring. Springtime is when nature blooms and inspires everything to come out from winter hibernation and buzz with excitement and a desire for life. It is during this time that Cupid surfaces, or in this case, Lord Kamadev, India’s Cupid, who reunited Lord Shiva and Paravathi.

It is in this spirit of uniting with others near and dear that people come out to participate in the many arts and festivities of the day – pooratu, poorakkali (aka porattunatakam), and poorakalam.

While poorakkalam and poorakkali specifically commemorate Lord Kama, during Pooram, the other arts are folk dramas not related to any rituals. Poorakalam commemorates the demise of Lord Kama while Poorakkali inspires desire through song, dance and debate. Poorakkali happens in three phases-- in phase one young girls undertake rituals in the name of Lord Kama in hopes of having a good husband in the future, in the second phase, men trained in martial arts dance around an oil lamp (villakku) to retell stories of the gods and in the third phase, known as Maruttukkali, people debate on academic issues or pass on oral traditions of Ramayana and other stories.

In celebrating Pooramkuli, it is where I see the similarity with the Holi legend of the Invincible Dhundhi. The story goes that “due to a curse of Lord Shiva, she was not so immune to the pranks and abuses of young boys as she was to weapons and arrows.” Equating this with the western phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” people use this Pooramkuli day and the theater of Pooramkuli as an excuse to tease each other. Far from the concept of bullying in Porattu, male actors playing the parts of both sexes highlights the humor of everyday life though overacting of stereotypes, which elicits fits of laughter, bringing to light some current issues or concerns. Again in connection with Holi it is said that because of the exploits of Dhundhi that “boys are allowed to indulge themselves in rowdiness, using rude words and intoxication on Holi.”


In India most gods have 1,008 names. When I first was learning about India, reading all the myths and stories, I had the hardest time getting names straight. In one two page story, 10-15 names would come up and more than three quarters of these names were names of the same god (person). Like that, I believe festivals in India are all connected under different titles. Though these festivals all fall at the same time and could be seen to have uniting legends, there are festivals or rituals of festivals happening in different parts of India at different times of the year that could be seen of representations of one in the same. It is these unique ties that can highlight a unity in a diverse country such as India, where each state has a different language, cuisine, culture, art forms and other cultural identifiers.


When is Holi?

Holi 2010 - March 1
Holi 2011- March 20
Holi 2012- March 8
Holi 2013- March 27
Holi 2014- March 17
Holi 2015- March 6
Holi 2016- March 23
Holi 2017- March 13
Holi 2018- March 2
Holi 2019 March 21
Holi 2020- March 10


Related Links/Posts (referenced links within post, above):

Holi, The Colorful Festival, Submitted by Ajoy (2004)

Onam and Diwali: A Mysterious Connection

Thank you for reading.



Copyright ©2009 Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar


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