Holi: Religious Myths and Legends

The Hindu festival of Holi was once just a celebration of spring, but it has greatly evolved and come to represent a number of other Hindu legends. Holi is celebrated over two days during the months of February or March, depending on the last full moon day of the winter season. The festival is a celebration of the coming of spring and is one of the few times of the year that the traditional caste system in India is ignored. Known commonly as the Festival of Colors, it is celebrated in energetic fashion by the communal smearing of colorful paints on each other and the throwing of colored powders and dyes into the air with abandon.

One of the main Holi myths associated with the festival is the story of the female demon Holika. Holika’s brother was a demon king whose son was a devoted worshiper of Vishnu. When the king asked his son who was greater, him or his god, his son answered that Vishnu was greater as his father was merely a king. This angered the demon king who tried in vain to kill his traitorous son. When he failed, he went to his sister for her help in destroying his son. The gods had given Holika a powder that would protect her from fire, so she devised a plan to use this gift to help her brother. She carried her nephew into a bonfire, expecting the fire to burn him but leave her untouched. The gods punished this evil by removing the power from the powder, leaving her to burn and her nephew unharmed.

The demon king continued to try and kill his son much to the anger of Vishnu, but the great god could not kill the king without meeting certain requirements. A deal struck with Brahma, the god of creation, meant that no man, beast, god or demon could kill the demon king. He could not be killed in the morning or at night, and he could be killed neither indoors nor outdoors. In an elaborate scheme, Vishnu turned himself into a half lion, half man creature known as Lord Narasimha. Being neither beast nor man, Lord Narasimha attacked the demon king at twilight, which was neither night nor day. The attack took place in the doorway to the king’s courtroom, neither inside nor out.

But all darkness aside, Holi is a celebration of life, unity and fun. People take to the streets to dance, sing and cover each other in a vibrant array of colors. Not only does it symbolize the togetherness of a quickly growing country, this notion of unity manifests itself in the lighthearted frolicking enjoyed by men, women and children all across the country.

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