English meaning of the festival
Holika was the name of the lady who entered a blazing fire with her nephew Prahalad on the instruction of her brother. Prahalad continuously chanted the name of Lord Narayana and came out unharmed, while Holika burnt to death. Thus, Holika Dahan derives its name from Holika. It is celebrated as a festival of victory of good over evil. Holka, also means gram or pea roasted in fire and since thanksgiving oblations of wheat, gram, and other cereals were made in to the holy fire, this festival is known as Holika Dahan. Holi (different from Holika Dahan) refers to the ritual of in which water coloured with juices of flowers, and dyes of crimson-red colour, is sprayed in fun.
How the date is decided annually
Holika Dahan is celebrated on the full moon (Purnima) day in the month of Phalguna (the last month in the Hindu calendar). Holi (the playing of colours) is observed a day after Holika Dahan.
Significance of the festival to Hinduism
Holi is a celebration in which discrimination of any sort is not permitted to mar the sanctity of the occasion. Holi is an occasion in which all participate and celebrate together, irrespective of caste or class. Indeed, this should be the situation for any Hindu festival. This is a day of union, when people unite, the rich and the poor, big and small, all embrace and celebrate as equals.
How to observe/practice
In this celebration water coloured with juices of flowers, and dyes of crimson-red colour, is sprayed in fun, on anyone who may chance to venture outdoors. The bon fires made to mark the occasion also symbolize the burning up of the old year and the ushering in of the New Year.
Synonyms between major Indian languages
Known as Holika Dahan and Holi in all Indian languages