Spirit of Holi

After four years in US, it was refreshing for me relive the magic of festivals in India. Mom has been happy about my return and finding a reluctant but obeying partner in following the traditions of a festival and performing the pooja. Yesterday evening we performed the bonfire in front of the Ganesh (Elephant God) temple near the house. The entire atmosphere was auspicious and felt heartwarming under the huge bonfires heat. So I decided to write this short blog on Holi. 

Holi or the Festival of Colors is celebrated as the arrival of spring season a day after the full moon. Many people also refer to Holi as “Vasant Mahaotsava” or “Kama Mahaotsava”. Spring is referred to as “Vasant”. There are many ancient epics which narrate why and how the festival came into existence. Depending on which region a person is from they are different epics which narrate the initiation of the festival and rituals one follow in the celebration but the bottom line it’s the day of merriment and joyous occasion to celebrate spring season after the cold and gloomy winter. It’s the day when people throw “gulal” on each other and enjoy the beautiful colors of the nature. The colors were made from flowers but now day’s synthetic colors are also into market.

Many of us in India are aware of the legends of Holi, but for the benefit of my friends from other continents here is a short trip down the time lane into the ancient India.

Bakta Prahlad: The literal meaning of “Holi” is burning and this is very clear with this legend. In ancient India, there was a demon King Hiranyakashyap who by his ardent prayers to all gods has received a boon and ruled over the earth. His boon was that he cannot be killed by a man or an animal, in day or night, nor inside or outside. This invincibility had increased his ego and he believed himself to be equivalent to god. He ordered everyone in his kingdom to pray only him and not the trinity [Bramha, Vishnu, Shiva]. But to dismay his son Prahlad became a devoted believer in Lord Vishnu and refused to worship his father.

Hiranyankashyap tried to persuade his son in many ways, but when he didn’t listen, he decided to kill his own son over his ego. But Prahlad’s belief in Lord Vishnu saved him from all the plots. Finally not knowing what to do, Hiranyankashyap asks his sister, Holika for her help. Holika was blessed and had the power to walk into fire and not be burnt. On her brother’s request, Holika sits on the blazing bon fire with Prahlad in her lap. But Holika is burnt to ashes and Prahlad who was chanting Lord Vishnu’s name all the while came out unscathed.

Holika had used her boon for evil and hence she was destroyed. This bonfire which is lit at every street corner on the full moon night represents the burning of Holika and the victory of good over evil. The name “Holi” is derived from this legend.

Hiranyankashyap is killed by Lord Vishnu who appears in the form of “Narasimha” or “Lion God” during dusk and sits on the entrance of the house there by not violating the boon given to him. How you might ask, well here it is:

 *cannot be killed by man or animal – Lord Narasimha form is neither man nor animal.

*in day or in night – dusk, end of day and arrival of night.

*House entrance – it’s neither in the house nor outside the house


 Kama-Dahanam: This is one of alias used for Holi in southern India. This day is celebrated for the extreme sacrifice by Kaamadeva (God of Love). The legend has it that When Lord Shiva’s Consort Sati entered the fire for disgrace shown by her father Daksha to Lord Shiva. After loss of Sati Lord Shiva became sad and mourned her death. He renounced his worldly duties and went into meditation.

It is said that Sati was later born as Parvati who was devotee of Lord Shiva and wished for him to be her husband. So she started meditating to Shiva, but he was in deep trance and didn’t respond to her prayers.

Other gods became worried as Lord Shiva’s renouncing of his duties had created chaos in the world and balance was lost. They approached Lord Kaamadeva, the god of love for his help. Kaamadeva knowing he might suffer Lord Shiva’s wrath, he agreed for the goodwill of the world. When Paravati approached the Himalaya’s where Lord Shiva was meditating to offer her prayers, he shot his arrow at Lord Shiva. Having been disturbed from his meditation Lord Shiva became extremely angry and opened his third eye – reducing Kaamdeva to ashes. But the arrow shot by Kaamadeva had its effect and Lord Shiva married Parvati. Paravati pleaded with Lord Shiva and explained the sacrifice of kaamadeva and requested him to revive Kaamadeva. Lord Shiva being embodiment of love himself revived Kaamadeva.

Kaamadeva was incinerated by Lord Shiva on the day of Holi.

People in southern part of India celebrate his sacrifice and pray to him. Kaamdeva is depicted with a bow of sugarcane. The deity is offered mango blossoms and sandalwood paste to cool the pain from the burns.

There are many legends of Holi people talk off, but the bottom line of all these epics is that good always overcomes evil and we should try to maintain balance in our lives and enjoy the gifts of nature and fill our hearts with fulfillment.

But as every year passes I see alarming change in the attitude of today’s youth. Every festival has become an excuse to party to excess and drink to excess. It’s heartbreaking to see the Holi spirit lost to extremes.

 P.S: I wish all my readers a colorful and joyful Holi.

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