Festival of Holi
Holi is a social festival. It is a festival of colors. Young and old, men and women all participate in this festival with remarkable energy and gusto. It is a national festival in which people from various regions and all segments of the society join the celebrations with fervor. In the southern part of the country it takes the form of “Kama” festival in honor of the God Kamadeva. Holi ushers the spring season (Vasant in Sanskrit) and is celebrated on the day of full moon in the month of March, which is Phalguna according to the Hindu Lunar calendar. On this occasion the children and young adults build a stack of sticks, grass and wood in the center of the town or village. A ceremony is performed to worship Holika and then the stack is set to fire. After the ceremony when the fire has died down, the people place the ashes on their forehead and the rest of the body while chanting Vedic mantras in honor of Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu and the Divine Mother. This is pre-eminently the spring festival of Bharat. The trees are smiling with their sprout of tender leaves and blooming flowers. With the harvest having been completed and the winter also just ended, it is pre-eminently a festival of mirth and merriment. Gulal (colored powder) is sprinkled on each other by elders and children, men and women, rich and poor alike. All superficial social barriers are pulled down by the all-round gaiety and laughter.
Spiritual and Social Significance of Holi
As in the case of all our festivals, Holi too has its plentiful share of spiritual significance. Fire is the symbol of yajna in which all our bodily desires and propensities are offered in the pure and blazing flame of spiritual enlightenment lit within our hearts. Since Vedic times this festival has been termed as a “Yagna” or a sacred offering that marks “renewal” or re–birth. The rotten, the decaying, the negative in us is respectfully and symbolically burnt, and then promptly replaced with new, vibrant, positive aspirations, feeling and resolutions (spring season). Half ripe and fully ripe grains and fruits from the farms are offered to the “sacred fire” and then accepted as prasad. In Vedic times this offering was known as Hola from where the name Holika originated. The Holi ceremony in a way is in honor of Lord Agni (Fire) as the “impartial witness,” that reduces everything to its essence. In the presence of Agni, only the Truth survives and the untruth is destroyed. To celebrate this victory of virtue over cruelty and arrogance, fires are lit on the eve of Holi. People collect wood and pile it around a central pole. Some times a pot is filled with seeds and buried under the pole. The pole symbolizes Prahlad and the wood symbolizes Holika. The pole survives, whereas the wood is burnt to ashes. People also throw coconuts in the fire to help burn Holi. Holi is primarily a festival of enjoyment, fun and laughter. There is no fasting. People enact divine plays that Krishna played with the cowherd boys and girls. Therefore on this day people of all ages, classes and regions throw colored water at each other. People tease each other lovingly. They sing and shout, all of which is intended to symbolize the pranks that Krishna used to play on the cowherd girls.
The boys are allowed to appropriate fuel of any kind for the fire, the woodwork of deserted house, fences and the like, and the owner never dares to complain. Horseplay is okay. Handfuls of red powder, mixed with glistening talc, are thrown about unto the balconies above and down on people below. Seen through this atmosphere of colored cloud, the frantic gestures of the throng, their white clothes and faces all stained with red and yellow patches, branches of peacock’s feathers, artificial flowers and tinsel stars stuck in their rims form a beautiful spectacle. Thereafter follows mock fights between men and women conducted with perfect good humor on both sides.
In the evening the scene is totally different. Every body is washed, groomed, decked with new clothes, and ornaments. They visit their friends, relatives and other members of the community, exchange gifts and embrace each other as brothers and sisters, mother and father, friend and teacher, king and subject. In the great historical work of Mahabharat, it is mentioned that King Yudhistir, the oldest of the Pandavas, on advice from Sage Narada, granted safe haven for every citizen on the Holi day, such that every citizen big or small can freely sing, dance and be merry – laugh, play pranks on each other. Joyous laughter, singing, and chanting of Vedic mantras gets rid of the negative feelings and charges the community with positive thoughts and good will. People forget and forgive past differences, hatred and petty jealousies. All that is burnt in the fire and what remains is truth, love, affection, respect and goodwill. Like many other great social festivals of Bharat (India), Holi again and again binds the Bharatiya (Indian) community and nation into a harmonious, inter–related whole.
Agni – The Witness
The fire, Agni, is the witness, Sakshi. Why? Fire reduces everything to its essence, to its elemental form. In this case it reduces Holika to ashes - that is carbon, except for the small statue of Devi and Prahlad - that symbolizes the Truth. Only Truth remains. Satyameva Jayate. Bhakta Prahlad, a ten year old boy, is the symbol, the champion of Truth and Justice. He was like a single man opposition party against the tyrannies of his father. But he was unwavering in his commitment, in his devotion to Vishnu, his devotion to Truth. So what Holi teaches us is about complete faith in ones’ self, in Vishnu. Do we have the courage of Bhakta Prahlad to stand for justice? The religious significance of the festival of Holi is to mark the burning of self-conceit, selfishness, greed, lust, hatred, in fact all the undesirable demoniac tendencies, propensities, thoughts and behaviors - the victory of righteous forces over demoniacal forces. Holi dhamaka in the morning is followed by everyone dressed impeccably and visiting each other.
May the colors of Holi fill your life with brilliance, joy, friendship, acceptance, discipline and adherence to Truth!