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Hindu Festivals
Adyar Gopal Parivar
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Hindu Festivals
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By Mohan Shenoy

The Holi Festival
Holi is a festival that has colourful tinge to it. It is also called the Festival of colours. A convenient day is the second Friday in the month of March. Otherwise it is held on the Thithi of Phalguna Bahula Poornima (Full Moon day in the second fortnight of the month of Phalguna). This Thithi will be different in different years in relation to the common calendar we are using in schools, colleges, offices and businesses.

The story behind this festival is of the famous Prahlada, the young boy who brought upon his father Hiranya Kashipu his death in the hands of an incarnation of Vishnu, Narasimha, the Lion man.

Lion man had the head of a lion and body of a human being. He had claws of a lion. He caused the death of Hiranya Kashipu by simply tearing open his abdomen with his claws. He then ate his organs. After the blood-curdling event, Narasimha simply disappeared. Prahlada was being harassed by his father not to worship Vishnu, because Vishnu was his enemy. The boy persisted that he would worship only Vishnu and no one else. All attempts by Hiranya Kashipu to change the mind-set of his son failed. He therefore wanted to get rid of his son, even if he had to kill him. Hiranya Kashipu did not want to kill his son himself. Therefore he availed the help of his sister Holi or Holika.

There are different versions of the stories about Holika as to the method she adopted to exterminate her nephew Prahlada who was only 5 years old. One story tells us that she was fond of Prahlada and was always protecting him from her brother Hiranya Kashipu, by keeping the child in her house. And that Hiranya Kashipu arranged the burning of the house in which Holi and Prahlada were together on this day. Holika died in the fire but Prahlada survived. From then on this day is celebrated in memory of Holika as the Holi festival.

Another version says that Holika had been granted a boon by which she could never catch fire. The fire cannot burn her. Such was her power against inflammability. She agreed to be burned with Prahlada when her brother asked her to volunteer to hold Prahlada when some one lit fire to her clothes. But her boon had expired then. She was surprised that the boon did not work and that she also caught fire and died. But Prahlada jumped from her lap and got himself saved. Holika died in the fire but Prahlada survived.

Whichever version we take it is Holika that died in fire and not Prahlada. Holi festival is in memory of Holika.

There is another story attached to the Holi festival. It is of Manmatha, the God of Kaama (Kaama is lust or love). This story is in Skanda Puraana.

Before Parvathi married Shiva, Shiva was a recluse and never looked at women. So Parvathi wanted the god of love to entice Shiva to marry her by shooting his arrow of love at Shiva. If Shiva gets struck with the arrow of love then he might become interested in Parvathi and marry her. So Manmatha agreed and went to Kailasa, the abode of Shiva. There, Nandi the guard stopped him from entering Shiva's abode.
There was a fight and Nandi shot an arrow of fire, which burnt down Manmatha. This burning of Manmatha is remembered on the Holi day as Kaama Dahana (dahana means burning) and Kaama Poornima.

Kaama Dahana is destruction of Kaama with fire. Kaama also means lust and therefore it is more appropriate to say that Kaama Dahana is burning down of lust.

This festival is held in the spring season or Vasantha Rithu. There is a perception that spring season brings on the feelings of lust in men. This lust is dangerous and makes men go after women. Women also develop the feelings of lust in spring season, but they are not prepared to enter into love games with men.

The Holi festival is famous not only for the Raksha Bandhan but also for the colours game. The colours game has been played since the time of Sri Krishna. Sri Krishna used to prepare coloured water and spray it on girls to tease them. Krishna was a great women's teaser. This he was doing quite often when he was a teenager.

But when Krishna grew up and bore many responsibilities then he chose one or two days to play the colours game with girls and women. He chose the Kaama Poornima for this game to be played every year. Since then people have been playing the colours game on the Holi day.

The colours used were red and yellow but now-a-days other colours such as blue and green are also used. The colour is dissolved in water and the coloured water is sucked into a Pichkari (a tube having a nozzle and a piston) and then forced out to spray on the girls and women. The girls and women in turn do the same thing on the boys and men. This way there is fun and frolic in playing the games of colours. Dry colour powder is also thrown over the people in this game.

This game is very widely played on the Holi festival day in most parts of India. It is more popular in the northern part than in the southern part of India.

This Kaama Dahana festival is carried to its conclusion by burning a log of wood in the evening of Holi. Men and boys dig a hole in the ground in a busy locality in the town, and place dry firewood, dry leaves and sawdust in it. In the evening a procession marches from the other end of the street with a tall log of wood carried by some of the processionists. A band accompanies the log procession. This log is the imaginary Kaama or lust. This log procession finally arrives at the ground where the hole is dug. The log is stuck into the hole to stand erect. Then some kerosene (lighter fluid) is poured on the firewood below and a fire is lit. The boys and men get excited when the fire burns fiercely. They shout in the name of Kaama imagining that they have destroyed him. More firewood, more leaves and other things that can burn are added in this fire to keep it burning till midnight.

There are a few entertainment programmes held and food served in some places. This literally is Kaama Dahana (burning of lust).