Recognized around the world as the festival of colours, Holi is one of the most popular Hindu festivals celebrated in India. It is a festival that comes with plenty of beliefs attached to it and gives devotees around the world a reason to unite and celebrate. Holi festival in India can be related to cultural and spiritual backgrounds.
Due to the richness of diaspora from the Indian subcontinent, Holi celebrations are spread in other parts of Asia as well as the western side of the world too. To understand the festival and its significance, we need to dwell on the past. Let’s get started.
What is the Real Story of the Holi Festival?
There are some beautiful legends and folklores related to the festival of Holi. One of the two most famous ones is related to the Supreme Lord Krishna.
The Krishna Legend:
Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord, is the God of love and compassion and the one with the most devotees around the world. While growing up in the Braj region (modern-day Uttar Pradesh), the deity Krishna had to face some adversities as his maternal uncle tried to kill him on multiple occasions.
One such instance is when his uncle Kansa, the evil tyrant ruler of the Vrishni kingdom, sent the demon Putana to poison Krishna with her breast milk. The assassination attempt failed as Krishna slew the demon.
During His youth, Lord Krishna had a benevolent bond with Radha, who is often described as the chief of the gopis. She was fair-skinned and that caused a feeling of despair in Krishna’s heart as He had a dark skin tone himself.
As a result of this, his mother Yashoda approached Radha and asked her to colour Krishna’s face with any colour she wanted. This action of Radha resulted in her and Krishna being a couple. And since then, this playful colouring of Radha and Lord Krishna is celebrated as Radha Krishna Holi amongst the devotees.
The Vishnu Legend:
The Vishnu legend related to the Holi festivalis equally mesmerizing. This symbolic legend from the Bhagavata Purana highlights Holi as the festival of the triumph of good over evil. The story is about the Supreme God Vishnu and his dedicated devotee known as Prahlada. He was the son of the demon king, Hiranyakashipu.
Due to the boon he received from Lord Brahma, Hiranyakashipu attained 5 special powers: he couldn’t be killed by any living entities created by Lord Brahma (neither man nor animal), neither inside any residence nor outside, neither by any Astra (projectile weapons) nor by shastra (handheld weapons), neither during the day nor the night and lastly, neither in water nor on land. Knowing these conditions made him virtually indestructible; he grew a God-like complex.
It is said that Prahlada became the devotee of the Lord even before he was born. While still in his mother’s womb, Prahlada came to hear the sweet chants of God-sage Narada. His father Hiranyakashipu took offense in his devotion and spiritual inclination to Lord Vishnu and warned him of the consequences of his action. On numerous occasions, the king of asuras tried to kill his son but failed every single time as Prahlada was under the divine protection of the Lord himself.
Ultimately, Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha form (a half-human, half-lion) appeared to rescue Prahlada and slew the demon king, signifying the triumph of good over evil. At the time of dusk, Narsimha took Hiranyakashipu to a doorstep, placed him on his lap, and killed him with his lion claws. This signifies the triumph of good over evil. Another legend associated with this folklore is Holika Dahan which is explained below.
What is Holika Dahan?
The Demon king Hiranyakashipu on numerous occasions tried to kill his son Prahlada who was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. In one such attempt, he summoned his sister Holika for help. Due to a boon she received from Lord Brahma, she had a special cloak that protected her from being harmed by fire. They planned to trick Prahlada into sitting on her lap while she sat on a bonfire.
In a turnaround of events, it is said that Lord Vishnu intervened to protect His devotee Prahlada and the cloak flew from Holika to cover Prahlada. As a result, Prahlada came out of the fire unharmed while Holika was burnt to death. Since then, Holika Dahan is celebrated every year on the night before Dhulandi to signify the victory of good over the forces of evil.
Why do we play colors on Holi?
As we mentioned above in the Krishna Legend, it was the bond of love and affection between eternal lovers Radha and Lord Krishna that started the trend of playing Holi with colours. The colours that were used at the time were Gulaab or Abir. These colours had beautiful scents as they were extracted from aromatic flowers such as Rose and Chrysanthemums.
What is the dry color In Holi?
The dry colour in Holi is known as Gulaal which has a rich traditional background of its own. In the earlier days, the colours used during the Holi festival were made at home from natural sources. The green was made either from leaves of ground Neem leaves (Azadirachta Indica) or Henna leaves.
The yellow colour was extracted from Turmeric (Curcuma longa) which is famous for its antiseptic properties. Other shades of yellow were extracted from the flowers of Marigold or Chrysanthemums. The colour Red was obtained from Butea Monosperma which is also known as Flame of the Forest or Palash tree.
But with passing time, the trend shifted towards using brighter colours which were synthetically made using chemicals. As attractive they might appear to be, they can be harmful to the skin and can cause serious skin ailments. Hence, it is recommended to play the Holi festival with naturally made colours.
Celebrated in many parts of the world with a feeling of joy and compassion, the festival of Holi brings people from all backgrounds together and serves as a symbol of unity. From the vibrant colours to the lavish gujiyas, Holi is loved by one and all!
The Holi festival has certain myths and legends associated with it. The stories related to Holi range from Lord Krishna being loving and adorable in his childhood to the tales of Lord Vishnu being the protector of his devotee Prahlada. But above all, this festival serves as a reminder of a few good messages for society.
First things first, Holi gives us a moral that good always triumphs over evil. Anyone who chooses to be evil and tries to torment the good pays the ultimate price. In some cultures, it is also a symbolic representation of the arrival of spring. Last but not least, it is also a playful enactment of the colour filled game that Lord Krishna used to play with Radha and other Gopis.