On 8th March, millions across India and the world pelted one another with a litany of colours and were generally joyous. The reason? Holi.
Holi is the festival of colours, the festival of spring and the festival of love. And it is time for recognising the passing of winter and the coming of spring, the triumph of good over evil and of course, one of the greatest romances the world has ever seen.
Celebrations for Holi last for a night and a day, starting on the evening of the full moon, where people gather and perform religious rituals in front of a bonfire and pray that their internal evils be destroyed the same way Holika was. The next morning, during Holi, people smear and drench one another with colours. Usually using water-guns and water filled balloons. There is music, singing and dancing and a good time is usually had by all.
There are a few myths that go into the founding of Holi, and we explore some of them below:
Festival of Love
Holi is often remembered as the festival of love, for it commemorates the eternal love of Radha and Krishna, particularly in the Braj region of India, where the two deities grew up. The story goes that in his youth, Krishna worried that the fair-skinned Radha would not love him due to his dark skin, such was his running concern that his mother, Yashoda grew tired of it. She eventually asked him to approach Radha and ask her to colour his face in any colour she wanted.
Encouraged by his mother, Krishna approached Radha and asked her to do this, Radha obliged, and afterwards Radha and Krishna became a couple.
Ever since, this moment has been celebrated in Holi and a celebration of the love the two deities have for one another.
Triumph of Good Over Evil
Holi is also celebrated as a triumph of good over evil. This is done to honour Vishnu and his devotee Prahlada.
According to the Bhagvata Purana, Prahlada’s father, the demon King Hiranyakashipu wanted his son to worship him. Prahlada refused, stating that Vishnu was the true God deserving of worship.
Naturally for a demon King who thought he was a God, this angered Hiranyakashipu. The demon King subjected his son to cruel punishments, none of which deterred Prahlada from his devotion to Vishnu.
Finally, Holika, Prahlada’s aunt tricked the boy into sitting on a pyre with her. Holika was wearing a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, whilst Prahlada of course was not.
The fire roared around them, and by chance, the cloak flew off Holika and encased Prahlada. Holika burned and her nephew survived.
Shortly after this, Vishnu took the form of Narasimha-half human and half lion-and appeared at dusk and took the demon King to a doorstep, placing him on his lap and then killed the demon with his claws. Thus avoiding the conditions of the boon that the demon King had been granted.
The Holika bonfire that occurs the day before Holi, commemorates the burning of Holika, whilst Holi itself celebrates Prahlada and Vishnu, and the triumph of good over evil.
Kama and Rati
Another less well known tradition around Holi involves Shiva and Yoga.
So deep in meditation was Shiva, that his wife Parvati sought help from the Hindu God of Love, Kama. Kama shot an arrow at Shiva, causing the latter to open his third eye in anger and burn Kama. Both Parvati and Kama’s own wife, Rati, are terribly upset by this. Rati therefore performs meditation for forty days, upon which Shiva, understanding what was done, forgives Kama and restores him into being. The return of the God of Love is celebrated on the 40th day after Vasant Pachami, as Holi.
A happy Holi to one and all!
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