When one thinks of India, an image conjures up before their eyes, a picture of people dancing and singing, spreading their colours into the wind and onto each other. This is the impact that one day’s festivities have not only on the country but on the world, when the entire country comes together in a vibrant array of colours and celebrates the festival that they adoringly wait for an entire year, Holi.
Why does one day holds such an impact in Indian society, what makes this day so special that for one day people rise above their grudges and setbacks and come together to celebrate Holi.
The origin story
According to the holy scripture, there once was a demon king known as Hiranyakashyap who ruled the earth. As to be expected, he was egotistical and arrogant and demanded that everyone in his kingdom worship him and only him. But his own son, Prahalad, refused to bow down to such baseless demands and became a devotee of Lord Vishnu instead.
Enraged by his son’s rebellion, Hiranyakashyap tried to kill Prahalad on several occasions but failed over and over as Lord Vishnu came to his devotee’s recuse every time. Losing his patience, the king asked his sister, Holika, who had a gift that she could enter fire unscathed, for help.
Holika was successful in convincing Prahalad to sit in her lap while she took a seat in blazing fire. Prahalad kept chanting Lord Vishnu’s name all this while, and Holika, to her own surprise started to burn in the fire, she was unaware of the condition of her boon, as she could be safe in it only if she entered the fire alone. As to her nephew, he came out of the fire, unharmed.
This is that moment which marks the ultimate victory of good over evil, of faith over treachery, of love over hatred. Holi derives its name from Holika itself, who, in her arrogance and evil intentions, lost to goodness and truth of Prahalad.
Celebrated across the nation, this Hindu spring festival marks the last full moon of the year. The festivities span over not just one, but two days. The first day, effigies of Holika are burnt in huge bonfires to mark the victory of good over evil; it is known as Holika Dahan. It’s the time to unburden oneself of the past year’s baggage and throw them into the fire, both literally and figuratively.
The next day, people draped in white, celebrate the day of colours. Dyeing each other in the vibrant shades of the festival, for this one-day, leaving behind their worries and pains and come together to celebrate with each other.
This day strengthens people’s belief in the goodness of their society, and it makes them believe in the power of truth and morals once again. The legend behind it teaches people the virtue of devoting themselves to the higher power and purity.
There is a scientific significance behind the Holi celebration as well; at this time, when the winter season takes a backseat to allow spring to unfurl its wings, people generally feel more lethargic and torpid. The loud merriment and revelry rejuvenates the body and mind and prepares people for the rest of the year ahead. The seasonal shift, from winter to spring, induces the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere as well as the body. Burning Holika raises the temperature around it to 62 degrees Celsius, which effectively kills the bacteria in the atmosphere, and as the people perform Prakikrama around the fire, it also kills the bacteria inside the body.
It is a time when the agricultural fields are in full bloom, and people are earnestly expecting a good harvest for the year. This, too, gives them another reason to lose themselves in this joyous occasion of merrymaking and celebrations.
Holi brings people together, regardless of colours, gender, caste, creed, or social status. This is the day where the secular fabric of India shines with its diverse and vibrant colours and re-establishes its significance in the minds and hearts of people.
And at this dire time of uncertainty and confusion, we as a country need a reminder of our brotherhood and love for each other, which transcends the boundaries of societies. This season, may this day bring love, compassion, and peace into our lives, once more.