Holi is not only a religious but a cultural festival, a unique opportunity to share happiness, love and positivity.
South Asian festivals particularly celebrate human qualities, including human dignity. Holi argues that life should be as colorful as nature. It is linked to happiness – both in the body and the soul. This year, things are a little less enthusiastic due to the pandemic.
While the origin of the festival is linked to different stories in the Hindu mythology, the common theme is the victory of good over evil. The most famous story about this festival is in relation to two characters, Prahlada and Holika. The “Naradapurana” states that Prahlada, the son of a demon named Hiranyakashipu, was a devout follower of Hindu god Lord Vishnu, whom Hiranyakashipu considered his ultimate enemy. Hiranyakashipu had even instituted severe punishment for those the god’s name in his kingdom. He warned his son, who remained oblivious of the threats and remained absorbed in his contemplation of the divine.
Hiranyakashipu unsuccessfully tried to kill his son several times, but he was saved by the god. Finally, Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s sister, who had earned a boon that said fire could not burn her, entered the fire with her nephew Prahlad in her lap. But Prahlada came out unscathed while Holika burned to death. Holi thus signifies the victory of truth over untruth, and virtue over misconduct. So it also symbolizes the victory of truth, justice, devotion and faith, and the destruction of injustice, sin and demonic practices.
In North East India, Holika dahan is celebrated as Putna Daah, the slaughter of the demoness Putna by Lord Krishna. In South India it is believed that on this day Lord Shiva’s fiery third eye opened and consumed Kamadeva, the god of love. Thereafter, Lord Shiva, moved by the grief of Kamadeva’s wife Rati, revived Kamadeva and showered the couple with colors. For this reason, on the eve of Holi, fire is ignited in South India and sugarcane, mango blossoms and sandalwood are added to it. Here, sugarcane symbolizes the bow of Kamadeva; the mango blossom, the flowers on his arrow; the fire, the scorching power of Shiva’s eye, and the chanting of sandalwood, the salve for the hurt Kamadeva.
Many cultural and public related programs are held on Holi.
During Ghoomar, a Rajasthani event associated with Holi, dishes with sandalwood tilak and refreshing drinks bestow this festival with dignity. Ghoomar, dandiya dance and singing troupes from different regions perform throughout the night.
In Mathura and Vrindavan, Holi is linked to Lord Krishna. The Falgun Shukla Ekadashi day holds special significance in the temples of Vrindavan. Devotees come from distant places to celebrate Holi.
Holi demands that all distractions are erased, and that all our sufferings, sorrows, worries, animosity, etc. should be burned off, and the color of happiness, cheerfulness and joy in life scattered everywhere.
Check out this piece on Culturally Significant Beauty for the Modern Indian-American Woman.