Holi with the Flame-of-the-Forest in Purulia

Who does not want to delve into the riot of colours when the colours are so bright and appealing? What can be a better occasion other than Holi to spread the colours of nature that will definitely not offend anyone. So with a splash of colour, I say, “Bura Na Mano Holi Hai” (don’t be offended, it’s Holi). Spring is celebrated in every part of the world and we Indians celebrate the Spring with the Holi or the “Basant Utsav” (the festival of Spring). I am here with the ‘Flame-of-the-Forest’ to colour my readers in its colour of joy on this Holi.

Palash or the Flame-of-the-forest
Palash or the Flame-of-the-forest

With the advent of the Spring, I was in search of the symbolic flowers of the Spring – the Flame-of-the-Forest or ‘Palash’ as it is commonly known (with variation in different regions) and is native to Indian Subcontinent. Where ever I came across any tree laden with the bright blooms, my heart bumped with joy. I wanted to see more of them, I wanted to see them all around me on every tree and every branch, also covering the floor with the dropped flowers.

I was looking for such a place when suddenly I had a recollection of a picture that I saw the previous flowering season on a Bengali newspaper. A silky road with the bright Palash (Butea monosperma) trees laden with flowers on either side of the road changing a simple scene to stunning orange painting. It was a scene from some village road in Purulia district of West Bengal.

A forest of Palash - The climatic condition this year was not suitable enough for all the trees to bloom
A forest of Palash – The climatic condition this year was not suitable enough for all the trees to bloom

I immediately made my plan and with no further delay and leaving no stone unturned and not looking out for the tree in any locality or here and there, I was in Purulia just a couple of week before the festival of colours, the Holi. What can be a better occasion than this for sharing my colourful experience of nature playing Holi?

After a lot of research, I decided to visit Baranti, the northeastern part of the district. I heard that it is the place where I can find long stretches of Palash trees on every field and on either side of the road. To witness this scene I went to Baranti. There are a lot more than just Palash in Baranti so I decided to write a separate post on Baranti and let this post be on Holi with Palash.

It is truly the flame in the forest
It is truly the flame in the forest

Holi is an annual Indian Hindu festival celebrated in the Spring. It typically lasts for a night and the consecutive day starting on the full-moon night (Purnima) of the Hindu month of Phalgun. Holika Dahan is performed the previous evening followed by Holi the next day. Holika Dahan is associated with the ancient legend of burning Holika the devil.

This is a symbolic celebration with associated rituals where people gather around a bonfire created mostly by the kids and the youths. They gather dry woods, cow dung cakes and other combustible materials to make their bonfire and top it with the dummy of Holika. People sing and dance around this bonfire symbolising the victory of good over evil. The next morning starts with people smearing and drenching each other with ‘Gulal’ (powder colour) and liquid colour which continues throughout the day, the morning is specially dedicated to liquid colour and the evening to the Gulal.

Holika Dahan
Holika Dahan
What can be a better source to make a bright colour
What can be a better source to make a bright colour

Who does not know of Holi and Holika Dahan? When I write something on Holi it is customary to give a brief introduction to the festival. Now, we know that Holika is a devil and is burnt every year so let me tell you the legend behind this practice. Apart from many other legends that are specific to different regions, the Vishnu Avatar legend is the most popular and widely accepted.

The story begins with the demon king Hiranakashipu who after severe penance pleased the Gods to acquire boon of a near to impossible death. With the boon, he became more and more powerful and arrogant and wanted to suppress all creatures and be worshipped as the supreme ruler. His son, Prahlad was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and he disagreed to follow his father’s decree. Even after a lot of sufferings and punishments brought to him by his father, little Prahlad continued to show his devotion to Vishnu.

I wish the climatic conditions were favourable and I could have seen the forest red
I wish the climatic conditions were favourable and I could have seen the forest red

Hiranakashipu devised a plan with his sister Holika to burn Prahlad to death. Holika tricked Prahlad to sit on a burning pyre with her. To save herself from any fire-related injury she put on an anti-fire cloak. Vishnu appeared as the saviour and the cloak flew away from Holika’s body and wrapped Prahlad thus saving the boy and burning his evil aunt to death. Vishnu as Narshimha Avatar then killed the demon king Hiranakashipu maintaining the conditions of the boon.

With this legend in mind, the Holika Dahan followed by Holi is celebrated since ancient times to honour the victory of good over evil. The Holika Dahan also symbolises the burning of evil within ourselves followed by the celebration of joy with the pure soul by applying colours to each other ignoring the difference of caste, creed, sex, religion, economic background and social strata in the form of Holi.

As there are different legends associated with Holi in different regions, there are also different ways of playing Holi and their respective names for every occasion like Phagwah, Rangwali Holi, Dhuleti, Dhulandi, Lath Mar Holi and many other names associated with it. When there is a festival there have to be foods and here it is mostly sweetmeats. And those that are traditionally linked with Holi are ‘Gujiya’, ‘Malpua’, ‘Thandai’.

While celebrating Holi, some prefer liquid colour, some prefer powder, some prefer synthetic colour some prefer organic or herbal colour and when you talk about the organic or herbal colour you come back to the beginning of my post where I was talking of Palash or Dhak or Tesu or Butea monosperma. Flowers like Palash, Hibiscus, Semal, and others along with various fruits, vegetables and leaves are used to make the herbal colours.

These natural ingredients were used to prepare colour for ages before the synthetic colours flooded the market. The herbal colours are making a comeback with the increased awareness on some of the ill effects of the synthetic colours on the skin and eyes. These bright coloured flower petals are dried and powdered for dry colour or boiled and strained for wet colours. I do not know the detailed process or the other ingredients used in the making but read the basics from some magazine.

The langur relishes the sweet Palash
The langur relishes the sweet Palash

With this little information and a bag full of the orange coloured flowers, I decided to make my own herbal Gulal this Holi. I carried an empty bag to collect the flowers that have dropped down the Palash trees and was surprised to return with the bag full yet many many more flowers lying on the ground to dry up or get stomped over. I was highly excited to turn my flowers into herbal Gulal but in due course of travel some of my flowers have withered and were stale while others dried up. Still, I did not lose hope and tried with the residual flowers.

Although I was not successful in my attempts still I have this bug in mind and shall try it again the next season. Keeping aside the intricacies and the complexities of preparing colour to play Holi I will rather come back to the festival of Holi and its celebration. I am more of a timid Gulal person than a player who loves to brave the stubborn wet colours. Do share with me your thoughts on Holi and how do you like to play Holi.

Floral petals are often mixed with the Gulal to play Holi and also to decorate courtyards
Floral petals are often mixed with the Gulal to play Holi and also to decorate courtyards
A peaceful scene from Purulia
A peaceful scene from Purulia

Meanwhile, I come to the conclusion of this post and I must say Spring is the time when Nature plays Holi with us. Nature paints the surrounding with shades of orange from Flame-of-the-Forest to red from Seemal to blue/purple from Jacaranda to yellow at the end of the Spring from Amaltas (or Golden Shower or Cassia fistula) and Yellow flame to Pinkish red from Ashoka tree, with a long list to go on. As nature plays Holi colouring every soul in its vibrant colour, I wish all a joyful and colourful Holi. Happy Holi!

The painting of Nature
The painting of Nature
This elderly lady makes a meagre income selling these flowers during the season
This elderly lady makes a meagre income selling these flowers during the season

8 thoughts on “Holi with the Flame-of-the-Forest in Purulia

  1. Beautiful pictures, Sarmistha. Indeed, it is difficult to find a tree more beautiful than Palash. Although Palash in not commonly found here in Jaipur I was able to locate a few years ago and subsequently wrote about its beauty on my blog.

    How do you click pictures? a dedicated camera or a smartphone?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Arv. You can say that I am in love with Palash trees, they are immensely beautiful when in full bloom.
      I read your wonderful posts on Palash and Seemal just when I was planning my travel to Purulia, it was such a strange coincidence.
      All of the pictures here were clicked using a camera.

      Like

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