Holi, Ulli, Purulli: 3 Interesting Festivals in India and Sumer

Holi at udaipur
Holi in Udaipur

Research paper written by London Swaminathan
Research article No.1450; Dated 1st December 2014.

Holi celebrated in North India, Ulli celebrated in Coimbatore region of Tamil Nadu and Purulli celebrated in the Ancient Near East are similar in name and theme. They deserve a closer look and comparison.

One of the most popular festivals in India is Holi. It is a Hindu festival to celebrate the arrival of spring season. It also signifies the victory of good over evil. Holika, a demoness, sister of the demon king Hiranyakasipu was killed on that day. To commemorate this they burn the effigy of Holika or make a bonfire in the night. They throw colours on others to celebrate the arrival of spring season in March every year. Of late it has become a secular festival involving all communities.

Ulli festival was one of the rarely known Tamil festivals celebrated in ancient Chera Nadu, now known as Kerala. Now it is celebrated in Coimbatore region only. This area was called Kongu Nadu in the olden days. Sangam Tamil verse (Akananuru 368) refers o this festival. Kongars of Kongu Nadu tied bells around their waists and danced in the streets. Not much is known about this festival because of scarcity of material.

In the same way we know very little about the Sumerian Purulli festival. It was celebrated by Hittites who spoke a language related to Sanskrit. It was a spring festival like Hindu Holi, again to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Here they recited the myth of killing of the snake Illuyanka. It was considered a very important festival even the king interrupted his military campaign to participate in it. We have similar myths of Indra killing snakes like Ahi and Vrtra in the Rig Veda. That is also interpreted as celebrating the change of season. They welcomed the spring or rainy season after a period of drought.


Spring is celebrated all over the world and the usual excuse is killing some evil demon or a monster. This is actually the language of the ancient peoples to say that the bad season is over and let us welcome a good joyful, bright Spring.
The similarity in the names Holii, Ulli (Tamil) and Purulli (Sumer) sounds very interesting.

Brian E.Colless compared Purulli festival with Vrita killing Indra


Brian E. Colless
1. The Illuyanka Myth
The Battle with the Serpent

Thus speaks Kella, the anointed priest of the storm-god of Nerik.
The words for the Purulli festival of the storm-god of heaven, as follows:
May the land flourish and thrive, may the land be protected.
When it flourishes and thrives, they celebrate the Purulli festival.
When the storm-god and the serpent* fought together in Kishkilussha,
the serpent* defeated the storm-god. *illuyankash ‘snake’
The storm-god then summoned all the gods: Come, Inara is preparing a feast.
She prepared everything on a grand scale;
vessels of wine . . . (and other beverages), vessels filled to overflowing.
Then Inara went to Ziggaratta and met Hupashiya, a mortal.
Inara spoke thus to Hupashiya: There is something I want to do,
and I would like you to assist me.
Hupashiya said to Inara:
Certainly, if you let me lie down with you, I will do anything you wish.
And he lay with her.
Inara took Hupashiya to the place and hid him.
Inara dressed herself up and lured the serpent out of his hole, by saying:
Look, I am preparing a feast , come, eat and drink.
The serpent came up with his children, and they ate and drank;
they drank every vessel dry and were sated.
They were now unable to go back into the hole,
so Hupashiya came and bound the serpent with a cord.
The storm-god came and slew the serpent, and the gods were at his side.
Inara built a house on a rock in Tarukka and she installed Hupashiya in the house.
Inara instructed him: When I go out into the country, you must not look out of the window. If you do, you will see your wife and children.
After she had been away for twenty days,
the man opened the window, and saw his wife and children.
When Inara came home from the country, he began to whine: Let me go home.
Inara . . . * *(killed him? or simply sent him home?).
Inara returned to Kishkilussha, and placed . . . her house . . . in the hands of the king.
… celebrating anew the first Purulli festival, the hand of the king …
the watery abyss of Inara.
Mount Zaliyanu is first among all the gods.
When he has granted rain in Nerik, the herald brings bread from Nerik.
He had asked Zaliyanu for rain, and he brings the bread on that account (?). . . . .

Ulli festival, modern version from Kongu Nadu

There are two versions of the battle between the storm-god and the serpent (or dragon, Hittite illuyankash). The first version is given above. Notice that the myth is connected with the ritual of the Purulli festival, and is concerned with producing rain. This is to be compared with the Sanskrit myth of the weather-god Indra vanquishing the dragon Vritra, an event celebrated in the annual Mahavrata ceremony.
Editions and Translations

Gary Beckman, The Anatolian Myth of Illuyanka, Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 14 (1982) 11-25 (complete edition).
E. Laroche, Textes mythologiques hittites en transcription (1969) 5-12.

Pictures are taken from Wikipedia and other sites;thanks.

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