It is the time of the year when we finally bid adieu to the harsh winter months and embrace the mother of all seasons – spring. All the trees, plants and branches are covered with the widest variety of flowers. Everywhere it seems like a riot of colours. And along with Mother Earth, it is time to welcome the festival of colours as well – Holi. It is the festival where we forget our internal differences of caste and creed and smear the colours of joy on one another. It is an occasion where we let go all the restrictions of norms and indulge in oneness in gay spirits. So the air surrounding Holi is a happy and high spirited one where we forget our bindings to be one with the entire human spirit.
It is mostly the people of North India who celebrate Holi. However, these days the popularity of Holi has reached all corners of India and people of different regions celebrate Holi in their individual style. Even as Hindus celebrate Lord Krishna’s playing of Holi with his gopis, this is a festival which is celebrated by people of other religions as well.
There are different versions of how and why Holi originated. According to the most popular belief, Hiranyakashipu’s son Prahlad was a devout devotee of Lord Vishnu and in spite of several attempts by his father to deter his faith he continued to worship Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu tried to poison his own son but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. Prahlad was ordered to be trampled by elephants but God saved him. He was put in a room with poisonous snakes yet he survived. All of the attempts of Hiranyakashipu failed miserably. In his final bid, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre on the lap of Hiranyakashipu’s demoness sister, Holika who had a boon that would prevent her from death by burning. Prahlada like a good son obeyed his father’s orders. But his prayers were to Vishnu. When the fire started, everyone watched stupefied as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed. This burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi. Before the day of Holi, the last night a pyre is actually made where branches, old leaves and whatever that is redundant is burnt away. In other words Holi is a festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. So the evil spirit is burnt away to give place to the spirit of goodness and in this happy occasion people spread the colours of goodness with each other.
Hiranyakashipu was later killed by Lord Vishnu, who came in the form of Narasimha (who is half-man and half-lion) and killed Hiranyakashipu at dusk (which was neither day nor night), on the steps of the porch of his house (which was neither inside the house nor outside) by restraining him on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth) and mangled him with his claws (which are neither astra nor shastra).