The triumph of good over evil is probably the most extensively-used universal message of all time, featured as the moral of almost all stories ranging from the school texts to as large as epics and legends. One such story has been an example of the aforementioned moral that also forms the basis of a grand festival in India called Holi which is celebrated after Holika Dahan or ‘Choti Holi’. So, you must be wondering how and why even a backstory for Holi? More importantly, why Holi, it seems to be a really fun festival with no hint of diminishing evil. Well, where there’s good, there has to be bad.
What is the story?
Once upon a time there resided the egoistic demon king Hiranyakashyapu who solely wanted people to command over people and exercise dominance and power, just as all the conventional villains do. But to his great disappointment, his own son Prahlad was an ardent devotee of Vishnu and refused to worship him. Hiranyakashyapu’s efforts of trying to make his son worship him failed and ordered his servants to kill him. However, every attempt failed because Prahlad seemed to have been rescued by Vishnu himself. Finally, Hiranyakashyapu turned to his sister Holika, who had been blessed by a boon which made her immune to fire and asked her to enter a fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika sat on a pyre and coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap, after which set it on fire. Legend has it that Holika had to pay the price of her cruelty in return of her life. Holika was burned to death because her boon was that she would be untouched by fire if she was alone! Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Deity Narayana throughout the process, came out unharmed, as Vishnu had blessed him once again for his adamant devotion.
The burning of Holika is the most common mythological explanation for the celebration of Holi. This was denoted as a symbol of victory of good over evil.
How to celebrate the festival?
The festival begins on the eve of Holi, where people start gathering wood or combustible materials for a bonfire for days before the festival. An effigy of Holika is placed on top of the pyre made by people. Several activities take place from singing and dancing to performing parikrama – the action or ritual of moving clockwise round the fire as a symbol of devotion. Inside homes, people stock up on colour pigments (Holi) and festive seasonal foods and drinks like gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other regional delicacies. The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil.
After the night, comes the playful and joyous part of the festival. There is no tradition of holding puja (prayer) and is totally dedicated to pure enjoyment. Children, young people and even adults celebrate the festival of colours by applying dry or wet colour (known as gulal or abir) using various instruments like water guns (pichkaris) and water balloons filled with coloured water. No celebrations prove to be fun without food, thus various delicacies such as puranpoli, dahi-bada and gujia, desserts and drinks are prepared. After playing and cleaning up, people bathe, put on new clothes and visit friends and family.
Where is it celebrated?
The oldest encounters of Holi being celebrated are as far back as the 4th century. Originating from the Indian subcontinent, predominantly in India and Nepal, the Hindu-spring festival has spread to parts of Asia and the Western world through the diaspora from the Indian subcontinent. Thus popularly, it is also known as the “festival of colours” or the “festival of love”. The festival is prevalent and at present, celebrated by everyone, irrespective of their caste, religion, nationality, etc. In India, it is extensively celebrated all across especially in the Braj region around Mathura, where it lasts more than a week. The rituals go beyond playing with colours, and include a day where men go around with shields and women have the right to playfully beat them on their shields with sticks.
Holi proves to be a true joy-giver, which is the central motive of festivals. It is widely celebrated all across the world, irrespective of their nationality or religion. That’s the pure beauty of real happiness and what unity and elimination of evil gifts us.