The Holika bonfire and the festival of Holi are symbolic of the victory of good over evil, of Lord Vishnu over Hiranyakashipu, writes RAVI VALLURI
Cinema fans would certainly remember the legendary movie, “Sholay”.
There is an effectual scene in the movie when, the maniacal character of Gabbar Singh, caterwauls to his band of dacoits, “Holi kab hai, kab hai Holi?” and subsequently launches a sanguinary attack on the hapless denizens of Ramgarh who were immersed in celebrating the festival of Holi with myriad colours, gyrating to dances and songs.
The blitzkrieg of the bandits is however quelled with unprecedented valour by the duo of Jai and Veeru. The scene echoes the spirit of Indian mythology, in particular the Vishnu Purana and the legends of Lord Krishna, where righteousness triumphs over malevolent forces.
Holi: A veritable Indian eisteddfod
The celebration of the festival of Holi, brimming with mirth, is an exceedingly momentous occasion in the Indian psyche. The festival is highly pluralistic in nature as individuals of all faiths, castes and creeds participate with immense gaiety and fervour. The festival is steeped in myth and over the years has acquired iconic status particularly in Northern India.
People play Holi with chandan (sandalwood powder) and other colours (the rainbow of colours – representing different hues of human emotions, life and mind) along with water. Invariably the festival is celebrated as winter metamorphoses into spring. Those participating deduce that the bright and resplendent colours signify energy, life and joy. Humungous bonfires illuminate the landscape the previous evening, signifying Holika Dahan.
Bhagwat Purana: Legends and myths of Holi
Symbolic myths reveal that Holi is celebrated as a festival of colours in honour of the preserver of the Universe, Lord Vishnu. Legend has it that the demon king Hiranyakashipu was the king of Mephistophelian forces of the demons (asuras) and through rigorous tapasya was bestowed a boon that empowered him with gargantuan powers virtually making him immortal.
The boon stated that the demon king could neither be annihilated by human nor by animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, not at day nor at night. He could not be annihilated by astra (a projectile arsenal) nor through any shastra (handheld weapons), and further he would remain unscathed on land, water and the stratosphere.
Thus emboldened, Hiranyakashipu became hubristic and conceited. He demanded that he should be accorded the exalted status of Almighty God, and directed his subjects to worship him accordingly.
However, the blustering king Hiranyakashipu’s solitary son, Prahalada disagreed and remained steadfastly devoted to Lord Vishnu. This infuriated Hiranyakashipu no end and he would subject Prahalada to barbarous punishments.
This did not deter the resolve of Prahalada who continued to diligently chant the name of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu engaged the services of his sister Holika to eliminate his son. Holika was blessed with a boon that she would be unharmed by fire. The aunt, cased in a special cloak, seated Prahalada on her lap and sat on a pyre. The brother-sister duo did not realise that Holika’s boon would hold only if she were alone. Thus, the odious Holika was destroyed by the flames while Prahalada, who continued chanting the name of Lord Vishnu, was saved.
Meanwhile, in order to save his devotee Prahalada, Lord Vishnu emerged from a pillar as Narasimha (an androgynous human and lion) who annihilated the flagitious king at a doorstep (neither indoors nor outdoors), at twilight (neither during day or night) and on his lap (neither on land, water or air) and slayed him with his claws (no weapon used).
The Holika bonfire and the festival of Holi are symbolic of the victory of good over evil, of Lord Vishnu over Hiranyakashipu.
The evening is spent in observing Holika Dahan and the following day swathes of colour are splashed by joyous people. Here colour is meant to be visible, translucent and relished separately. However, if the colours get blended together chemically it will turn turgid and black in texture which will mar the atmosphere and quintessence of the occasion.
Holi and the legend of Lord Krishna
The Braj region of North India spans present day Central Uttar Pradesh, encompassing historical and religious centres such as Mathura and Vrindavan. These towns were the cradle of the cult and civilisation of Lord Krishna. As per the legend, the demoness Putana, sent by the egregious Kansa (maternal uncle of Lord Krishna) poisons the child Krishna while feeding him and that turns him Tartarean in colour. This dispirits him and Krishna feels that his soul mate, the fair complexioned Radha would not befriend him. The loving mother requests Radha to apply colour on Krishna to assuage him. Thus began the fabled application of gulal and the celebration of Holi in the region and continues to date in the Hindi heartland.
“Like Holi, life should be colourful; not boring. Harmony in diversity makes the life vibrant, joyful and more colourful,” says Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.