Holi – Legend and Significance

Holi – Legend and Significance

Holi is a Hindu Vaishnava festival. It is celebrated on the day after the full moon in the Bengali month of Phalgun. It includes different rituals like a public bonfire, puja (worship), merrymaking, throwing and applying of colored water and Abir (colored powder) at each other etc.

Holi has many local celebrations with different names around the sub-continent. In Maharashtra, Holi is called Rang Panchami, in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, it is known as Lathmar Holi. The festival is also celebrated as Dulandi Holi in Haryana, Hola Mahalla in Punjab, Phagwan in Bihar, Shingo in Goa, Kaman Pondigai in Tamil Nadu and Dolyatra or Vasantotsav in West Bengal.

The Holi festival is closely associated with the Dolyatra festival celebrated in Bengal. Another name of this festival is Vasantotsav. In fact the Holi festival is celebrated on the day after the Dol festival. The full moon of Falgun is called Dol Purnima in connection with the Dol festival. It is also called Gaur Purnima as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was born on this full moon day.

Happy Holi

According to Vaishnava belief, on the day of Falgun Purnima, in Vrindavan, Lord Krishna used to play with Abir or Gulal with Radhika and other gopis. That is the origin of the Holi or Dol. On the morning of the Dolyatra, the idols of Radha and Krishna are bathed in Abir and Gulal, mounted on the Dola and taken out in procession with kirtan songs. Then the devotees play with each other with Abir and Gulal.

The name Holi comes from ‘Holika’. Legend has it that the tyrant King Hiranyakashipu instructed his subjects not to worship Lord Vishnu. However, his son Prahlad was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. Disobeying the orders of his oppressive father, he used to worship Vishnu day and night. Hiranyakashipu knew about this and decided to punish his son. He put Prahlad on the lap of his sister Holika and set them on fire. Prahlad was saved by Lord Vishnu but Holika was burnt to ashes. From that belief, Holika Dahan is still celebrated today. It is said that eight days before Holi, the demon king Hiranyakashipu tried to burn Prahlad. This period is called Holastock. No auspicious work is done at this time. Worship begins after removing all evils by observing Holika Dahan festival. As per the Hindu calendar, every year on the full moon night of Falgun, Holika Dahan or Nyara Pora (bonfire) ritual is done.

Another legend related to the ritual of Nyara Pora (bonfire) involves Lord Shiva, one of the Triad. According to the legend, Lord Shiva spent a long time in deep meditation. Madana, the god of love, decided to test his intentness. He (Madana) appeared to Shiva as a form of a pretty nymph. But Shiva could easily recognize Madana and he was filled with rage. He shot fire out of his third eye and reduced him (Madana) to ashes. Many Shiva devotees think this story as a basis of bonfire held on the first day of the Holi. However, Sanatan devotees celebrate Holika Dahan (the burning of Holika) or Kama Dahan (the burning of Kama Deva) annually.

The most attractive ritual of the festival of Holi is throwing and applying of colored water and Abir on friends and families. It relates to a story which is favorite to Vaishnava devotees. According to the story, Lord Krishna was sad over his dark complexion and wondered why his beloved, Radha was so fair. He complained his mother, Yashodha about it. Yashoda playfully suggested her son to apply color on Radha’s face and change her complexion any color he wanted. Krishna proceeded to do that and thus the colorful ritual of Holi was introduced.

Happy Holi-1

Holi is spread out over two days (in some places it is longer). On the first day (Jalanwali Holi/ Chotti Holi), the bonfire and puja are held. This ritual is known as Holika Dahan or Kama Dahan mentioned above. The main celebration follows the next day (Dhulendi/ Dhulandi/Dhuleti/Dhulheti). People are seen in a happy mood. They sprinkle colored water and smear their faces with colored powders. Many people celebrate the occasion with delicious foods and desserts

Another local celebration of Holi is Lathmar Holi. It is celebrated a week before the main Holi or Dol at the Radha Rani Temple in Barsana (Radha Rani’s birthplace) in the village of Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh.

As per a legend, on this day Sri Krishna came from Nandagaon (Krishna’s abode) to Barsana in Vrindavan in pursuit of Sriradhika. Radhika and her friends were teased a lot. As a result, Radhika’s friends got angry. They tried to hit Krishna with sticks and drive him out of Barsana.

Following the legend, the devotees from Nandgaon visit the town of Barsana every year, only to be greeted by sticks (aka lathi) of the women there. The festival takes place at the Radha Rani temple in Barsana, which is said to be the only temple in India that is dedicated to Radha.The ladies hurl sticks at the men, who try to shield themselves as much as they can. The unlucky ones are captured by the enthusiastic women who then, make the men wear female clothing and dance in public.

The word ‘Lathmar’ originated from the beating of the stick. For a few days in this festival, every man in Barsana is Krishna and all the women are Radha. In the memory of Radha-Krishna’s Holi game in ancient times, the sky and air of Barsana-Nandagaon are drowned in the color of Abir or Gulal on these few days. The Lathmar Holi festivital lasts for over a week. It is a world famous festival. Tourists and photographers from different parts of the country and abroad gather here at this time.

Actually Holi is very symbolical and significant to a devotee’s life. If a true devotee concentrates deeply on the creation of the universe, he/she can see nothing but the color of heavenly love, and he/she can hear nothing but the chanting of God’s sweet name. Every year the Holi, the carnival of colors, comes to us with that love and sweet name of God. The festival also gives us the message of friendship and goodwill. At least for one day we can forget all types of social discriminations by the grace of Lord.
So, say – HAPPY HOLI

By Krishna Das

[Last Updated on 03March, 2023]

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