Holi, Legends and Significance

Holi: The festival of colors

The colorful festival of Holi is celebrated on Phalgun Purnima which comes in February end or early March. Holi festival has an ancient origin and celebrates the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘bad’.

The festival of Holi can be regarded as a celebration of the Colors of Unity & Brotherhood – an opportunity to forget all differences and indulge in unadulterated fun. It has traditionally been celebrated in high spirit without any distinction of cast, creed, color, race, status or sex.

Holi celebration begins with lighting up of bonfire on the Holi eve. Numerous legends & stories associated with Holi celebration makes the festival more exuberant and vivid. People rub ‘gulal‘ and ‘abeer‘ on each others’ faces and cheer up.

Meaning of ‘Holi’

Holi‘ comes from the word ‘hola‘, meaning to offer oblation or prayer to the Almighty as Thanksgiving for good harvest. Holi is celebrated every year to remind people that those who love God shall be saved and they who torture the devotee of God shall be reduced to ashes a la the mythical character Holika.

Legends of Holi

There are many legends that are directly associated with the festival of colors. Some popular legends are.

 The Legend of Holika and Prahlad

Holika was the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu who commanded everyone to worship him. But his little son Prahlad refused to do so. Instead he became a devotee of Vishnu, the Hindu God.

Hiranyakashyap tried several ways to kill his son Prahlad but Lord Vishnu saved him every time. Finally, he asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. For, Hiranyakashyap knew that Holika had a boon, whereby, she could enter the fire unscathed.

Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap and she herself took her seat in a blazing fire. The legend has it that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life. Holika was not aware that the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone.  Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Lord Naarayana all this while, came out unharmed, as the lord blessed him for his extreme devotion.
Thus, Holi derives its name from Holika. And, is celebrated as a festival of victory of good over evil.

The Legend of Radha-Krishna

Holi is also celebrated in memory of the immortal love of Lord Krishna and Radha. The young Krishna would complain to his mother Yashoda about why Radha was so fair and he so dark. Yashoda advised him to apply colour on Radha’s face and see how her complexion would change.

In the legends of Krishna as a youth he is depicted playing all sorts of pranks with the gopis or cowgirls. One prank was to throw colored powder all over them. So at Holi, images of Krishna and his consort Radha are often carried through the streets. Holi is celebrated with eclat in the villages around Mathura, the birth-place of Krishna.

Holi History and legends

Legend of Kaamadeva

When Lord Shiva married his love interest Sati, against the wishes of her father, Daksha Prajapati, one of the first sons of Lord Brahma, the couple was not invited to a grand yagya arranged by him. But Sati thought that her father would not mind her presence and therefore went to participate, despite Shiva’s warnings.

Upon reaching there she found that her father had not yet forgiven her or her husband and insulted the latter. An enraged Sati realized her mistake and as penance for what she had done burnt herself to death. On hearing the news of the death of his wife, Lord Shiva was infuriated and in order to control his anger he renounced everything and began severe meditation. But this led to unbalance on earth as Shiva was the protector, without whom the world would crumble.

Meanwhile, Sati was reborn as Parvati and tried to win Shiva’s heart and awaken him. When all her efforts went in vain, she appealed Kamadava, the Indian cupid-god, for help. In response, Kamadava shot a love-arrow into Shiva’s heart which disturbed his trance and woke him. An angered Shiva opened his third eye which launched fire and destroyed Kamadeva. Later, when Shiva understood his blunder, he blessed Kamadeva with a second life and immortality in invisible form. Therefore, many worship people Kamadev for his sacrifice on the day of Holi.

The Legend of Dhundhi

It is believed that there was once an Ogress called Dhundhi in the kingdom of Prithu (or Raghu). The female monster used to specially trouble little children who became fed- up of her.
Dhundhi, had a boon from Lord Shiva that she would not be killed by gods, men nor suffer from arms nor from heat, cold or rain. These boons which made her almost invincible but she also had a weak point. She was also cursed by Lord Shiva that she would be in danger from boys going about crazy.
Deeply troubled by the Ogress, the King of Raghu consulted his priest. Giving the solution, the priest said that on Phalguna 15, the season of cold vanishes and summer starts. Boys with bits of wood in their hands may go out of their house, collect a heap of wood and grass, set it on fire with mantras, clap their hands, go around the fire thrice, laugh, sing and by their noise, laughter and homa, the ogress would die.

The legend has it that on the day of Holi, village boys displayed their united might and chased Dhundhi away by a blitzkrieg of shouts, abuses and pranks. It is for this reason that young boys are allowed to use rude words on the day of Holi without anybody taking offence. Children also take great pleasure in burning Holika.

Another Ogress – Pootana

Yet another legend says that there was an Ogress known as Pootana. Lord Krishna’s devil uncle Kansa seeked the help of Pootana to kill infant Krishna by feeding him poisonous milk.
Pootana disguised herself as a simple and pious woman and treacherously fed baby Krishna with her poisoned breast. Lord Krishna, however, sucked her blood which revealed the monster behind that pious woman and laid her to death.

On the night before Holi, there is a practice to burn an effigy of Pootana – the Ogress who nearly killed Lord Krishna. The tradition is symbolic of victory of divinity over demonic forces. It also shows the end of winter and darkness – as typified by Pootana.

Different Names of Holi

Dulandi Holi
Basant Utsav
Dol Purnima
Lathmaar Holi
Hola Mohalla
Kaman Pandigai
Phagu Purnima


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