Holi Special: The “Hori” style of Vocal Music

Holi, a greeting to the spring season, is joyfully celebrated to remember Lord Vishnu’s protection of Prahlada, one of his kid devotees, and to remember Lord Krishna’s exchanging of colors with his friends in Vrindavan. Nothing equals such remembrance of God when it is coupled with music. The traditional style of vocal music developed specifically to celebrate this arrival of spring with devotion is called “hori.”

Hori songs with a devotional theme are almost always related to Krishna. Depending upon the imagination of the devotee poet, while the lyrics of one hori may envision the colorful galaxies as Krishna splashing colors (playing holi) in the universe, the lyrics of another may express the longing (viraha) that arises from not finding Krishna around even on the festival of holi. Numerous hori songs that display a delightful feel illustrate gopis, who already have their souls irreversibly colored in his love, continually requesting Krishna not to throw more colors at them.

As for the musical specifications, all ragas with the “spring” mood or a devotional feel are apt for a hori. However, Raga Kafi, which beautifully expresses the mood of the spring season, like Basant and Bahar, stands out as the most popular selection for composing a hori. Similarly, the fourteen-beat rhythmic cycles of Deepchandi (tabla; usually fast-medium tempo) and Dhamar (pakhawaj; slow tempo; classical) are favored in this style of singing.

This mix of festivity, devotion for the Lord’s divine plays, and musical sounds is offered in temples throughout early spring along with colored powders (gulal), flowers, and sweets.

Happy Holi!

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