The festival of Holi begins the night before with a bonfire. The bonfire symbolizes the clearing away of winter to make way for spring. The fire is also meant to signify the destruction of evil with the burning of the "Holika" -- a mythological character. The heat from the fire is also a reminder that winter is soon behind and that hot summer days are ahead.
The following morning begins with worshipping Krishna by lovingly smearing his idol with "gulal" -- the colors used to play Holi. This festival celebrates the arrival of spring, the season of love. Krishna supposidly is after his "gopikas", the numerous beautiful women that Krishna forever seems to be chasing. Yet this icon of love really spends most of his time seeking out his only lover Radha. So Krishna"s love is the epitome of the freshness of youth amidst all its playfulness. Without Krishna and his lover Radha there can be no Holi.
Krishna's mythological presence in Holi is undisputed. It is said that the festival is also a celebration of the death of Pootna -- the demon who nearly killed Lord Krishna. The effigy of Pootna burnt the night before, therefore, ends up signifying death itself just as Pootna typifies winter and darkness.
Then there is the story of Holika. Holika believed herself to be immune to death by fire. When she questions her nephew, Prince Prahlad"s devotion to the ultimate of Gods, Vishnu and threatens to walk through fire with the intention to destroy the prince, she is herself consumed by the fire whereas the prince comes out unscathed. This is the Holika that is burnt the night before Holi as the triumph of the good over evil.
Holi is an exuberant show of goodwill and cheer. Smearing colors on friends and family is the basic idea of Holi, no one is spared. Both the young and the old enjoy throwing water balloons, dry colors, and washable dyes on anyone in sight on Holi. People go around in the streets with tin drums filled with colored powder and big syringes filled with colored water. At the end of the day people are hardly recognizable.