Holi: the significance of the festival
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A festival that demolishes all boundaries
Holi signifies boundless happiness. Sacred festivities are meant to remind us of the inner bliss and oneness that are our inherent nature, the very essence of life. When everyone's bodies and faces are smeared with colours, all external differences disappear; everyone looks the same.True happiness and love arise only when all boundaries vanish.
Foremost among Holi legends is the story of Prahlada. Even as a little boy , Prahlada was fully devoted and surrendered to the Lord. His father, the egoistic King Hiranyakashipu, declared himself to be a god. Hiranyakashipu issued a decree that no one other than himself could be worshiped; everyone should chant only his name. Regardless, Prahlada continued his invocation of Vishnu.Infuriated, Hiranyakashipu devised many plans to kill the devout boy , including boiling him in oil, trapping him in a room full of venomous snakes, having him trampled by elephants even having his own mother poison him. Prahlada miraculously escaped all these plots unharmed, and his devotion only grew.
At one point, Hiranyakashipu asked his sister Holika who had a boon that made her fireproof to enter a blazing fire with Prahlada in her lap. But Prahlada remained unscathed. Holika, on the other hand, was reduced to ashes. This is re-enacted as Holika dahanam.
The story tells us that when a leader becomes selfish, selfcentred and drunk with ego, he forgets that he is, in fact, only a limited human being. The story reminds us that when we lose our humility , the law of karma will come into operation and correct us. This holds true for everyone. Always remember that we are all interconnected; the ripples of each of our actions good or bad, selfless or selfish will spread far and wide and go on to affect our family , village, state, nation and the entire world.
Prahlada demonstrates the power of unshakeable faith and determination.Although a little boy , Prahlada had to undergo many ordeals before God finally appeared before him.
This shows us that not only in spirituality but in all spheres of life if we want to attain great heights, we need great love, faith, dedication and surrender.Above all, we need to invoke the grace of the Supreme power.
On Holi, you can lovingly smear colours on anyone your parents, elders, neighbours, strangers, foreigners, friend or foe. Whoever you are, whatever your status, this act of “colouring“ is accepted in a spirit of celebration and friendship. In today's world, where human beings and nature are besieged by problems, threats and conflict, celebrations such as Holi bring the much-needed message of equality , unity, unconditional love, happiness, compassion, universal friendship and enthusiasm.
Due to his firm anchoring in devotion and faith Prahlada continues to be a source of tremendous inspiration. We need more such people to inspire us and lead us people whose pure love and fearless dharmic actions can help free our world from the grip of darkness and sorrow. We need more people who are selfless and who are full of compassion and love.
The joyful participation we feel during festivals and celebrations transcends the mind and intellect. It is wholehearted. There is a deep feeling of love in it. We need to put in effort to sustain this celebratory spirit in all of our activities throughout our lives.
Wisdom behind the word “Holi”
An asura king, Hiranya Kashyap, wanted everyone to worship him. But his son Prahalad was a devotee of Lord Narayana, the king’s sworn enemy. Angry, the king wanted Holika, his sister to get rid of Prahalad. Empowered to withstand fire; Holika sat on a burning pyre holding Prahalad on her lap. But it was Holika who was burnt, Prahalad came out unharmed.
Hiranyakashyap symbolizes one who is gross. Prahalad embodies innocence, faith and bliss/joy. The spirit cannot be confined to love material only. Hiranyakashyap wanted all the joy to come from the material world. It did not happen that way. The individual jivatma cannot be bound to the material forever. It’s natural to eventually move towards Narayana, one’s higher self.
Holika stands for the past burdens that try to burn Prahalad’s innocence. But Prahlad, so deeply rooted in Narayana Bhakthi could burn all past impressions (sanskaras) and joy springs up with new colors. Life becomes a celebration. Burning the past, you gear up for a new beginning. Your emotions, like fire, burn you. But when there is a fountain of colors, they add charm to your life. In ignorance, emotions are a bother; in knowledge, the same emotions add colors
Each emotion is associated with a color- Anger with red, jealousy with green, vibrancy and happiness with yellow, love with pink, vastness with blue, peace with white, sacrifice with saffron and knowledge with violet.
Knowing the essence of the festival, enjoy the day with Wisdom.
The ‘Holi’ festival is a very fun-filled and popular occasion in India. People play holi with Chandan and colored water. This festival is celebrated around early March each year. People believe that the bright colors represent energy, life and joy. Huge bonfires are also burnt in the evening and people worship the fire.
Life should be full of colors! And each color is meant to be seen and enjoyed separately, for if seen all mixed together, they will appear all black. All the colors like red, yellow, green, etc. should exist side by side and simultaneously be enjoyed together. Similarly, in life, different roles played by the same person should exist peacefully and distinctly inside him. For example, when a father continues to play his role of a ‘father’ in office, things are bound to go for a toss. In our country, a politician is sometimes a father first and a leader later!
In which ever situation we are in, we should play the corresponding role to the hilt and then life is bound to become colorful! This concept was called ‘Varnashram’ in ancient India. This meant – everyone, be it a doctor, teacher, father, whoever or whatever, is expected to play their roles with full enthusiasm. Mixing professions will always be counter productive. If a doctor wants to do business, he should run a business separately and secondary to his profession and not make business out of medicine. Keeping these ‘containers’ of the mind separate and distinct is the secret of a happy life and this is what HOLI teaches.
All colors emanate from white, and when mixed again, they become black. When your mind is white and consciousness – pure, peaceful, happy and meditative, different colors and roles emerge. We get the strength to play various roles with full sincerity against the background. We have to dip into our consciousness time and again. If we only look inwards and play around with colors outside of us, we are bound to find blackness all over again. Between roles we have to take deep rests, in order to play each role sincerely. Now, the biggest impediment to deep rest is desire. Desire means stress. Even petty desires cause high stress – the higher goals give relatively less botheration! Desire tortures the mind at times.
So what does one do?
The only way out is to focus attention on the desire and surrender it. This act of focusing awareness or sight on desire or Kama is called ‘kamakshi’. With awareness, desire loses its grip and surrender happens and then nectar flows out from within. The goddess, Kamakshi, holds a sugarcane stem in one hand and a flower in the other. The sugar-cane stem is so hard and has to be squeezed in order to obtain sweetness, while the flower is soft and collecting nectar from it is so easy. This truly represents life, which indeed has a little of both! It is far easier to obtain this bliss from the inside than it is to try to extract pleasure from the outside world – which needs a lot more effort.
Lift Your Spirit with Joy of Color
Holi and the power of fire
Fire is generated by fire. Fire is sustained by fire. Finally, fire is consumed by fire! Since attributes of fire are similar to those of the three facets of Divinity, the Trimurti – creation, sustenance and destruction – fire is a symbol of the Supreme in all Hindu rituals. Fire illumines itself. One sees fire in its own light, fire alone lights up the darkness; fire enables us to see all else.
Little wonder then, that fire is a sacred symbol in all religions. Offerings are made of candles, camphor lamps, incense sticks and oil diyas. Zoroastrian fire temples are renowned. The eternal flame there, called ‘Atar Beheram’ is treated like a king with a crown hung over it. This fire is fed five times a day by priests to keep it going.
In Greek mythology, the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the gods to give it to mortals, risking the wrath of Zeus, even when he knew that mankind cannot protect him from Zeus’s displeasure. As punishment, he was chained to a rock and an eagle would feed on his liver by day and with the liver renewing itself by night, his torture was prolonged.
In a dramatisation of the victory of good over evil, we have the legend of Holika, who, at the behest of her nonbelieving brother, King Hiranyakasipu, entered the burning fire with her nephew Prahlad in her lap. Since Holika had a boon that protected her from fire, it was thought that Prahlad would die and she would emerge unscathed. But Prahlad’s devotion and faith were such that he remained unharmed while Holika burnt to ashes, establishing the truth that eventually, good triumphs over evil.
To celebrate this, bonfires are lit in every home and locality. It also heralds the end of the cold winter and the coming of spring, bringing warmth and new life to crops and other plants. The ritual on Choti Holi of throwing worn out things and broken furniture into the bonfire symbolises the decluttering of mind of all old grudges, sorrows and negativities that pull one down. One awakens to a new year of love and togetherness. The fire ‘eats away’ bad habits, suffocating negative thoughts and clinging attachments that enslave us. Unless one lets go off mental baggage one can never create mind spaces that can breathe in the fresh air of positivity.
The next day, Holi, sees a burst of colours, song, dance, festivities and gay abandon. In a spirit of uninhibited revelry, bright colours are splashed on one and all. In love and joy, each embraces the other. Perfume and flowers, sandalwood paste and coloured water are lavished on friends and foes alike. In India it was always a friendly festival for people of all faiths. Many Sufi kalams are soaked in the love of Holi, using it as a motif of love play with the Lord. In this happy mood of laughter, merriment and feasting, one breaks free of all that imprisons, shackles and binds the human mind.
It is celebration of freedom from conditioned thought and regimentation.
The night of Holi sees the rise of a placidly cool and tranquil full moon that soothes the mind that is now cleansed of all prejudices and enmities and allows equilibrium to return to society after a cathartic expression of exuberance.
Holi and Sri Krishn
Divine Raas Leela Of Unconditional Love
From the archives of The Times of India
Sharad means winter and mahotsav is festival. Though this is the month of Phalgun, it was in Sharad on a full moon night that millennia ago in Vrindavan a dance of love was performed by Krishna, a child of seven years, and the gopis. This came to be known as raas leela.
Swami Vivekananda said that the raas leela is an external expression of divine leela which takes place in the heart of each and every individual, between the finite and the universal soul. Unless we have unflinching love and faith, Krishna and his life would always baffle us.
Take for instance Radha’s love. So enchanted was Krishna with Radha’s love, pure and divine, that He wished to experience it Himself. Radha told Krishna to incarnate so that she could infuse ‘Radha bhava’ in that incarnation. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is believed to be Krishna’s incarnation with Radha Bhava.
Only those who become “mad” with love can understand the love of gopis who are the personification of unconditional love. Krishna’s intellectual friend Uddhava asked Him: “Are all paths of spiritual advancement equally efficacious or is any one of them more important than the others?” Krishna answered: “All other paths by themselves cannot reach me without the help of supreme love or devotion. Knowledge alone is not enough. It cannot purify the mind and without purity of mind what results can one achieve?”
Sages who had done rigorous tapasya in their previous births reincarnated as gopis and were waiting to merge with their beloved God in this raas leela.
Krishna is the ideal lover, householder and sanyasi who, even while being detached, shows the world that true love is unconditional. When Radha and the gopis want to know why Krishna can’t meet them just once, Uddhava says, “The Lord knows that distance will make you love Him with more intensity and that is the secret to reach Him, to remember Him constantly.” Worldly people find it difficult to understand a love so pure that it wants nothing, expects nothing.
Krishna has revealed all aspects of love to us. Devotees are permitted to love Him in any which way. They think of Krishna constantly and the result is they get merged with Him. Uddhava meets the village girls and offers to take them to Mathura where Krishna resides. They refuse, saying: “Our Krishna is a cowherd, He plays the flute, He loves the cows, wears no slippers. Bring back our Krishna, Uddhava.”
When he offers to carry their messages they reply: “Messages are sent for one who is away but for one who is entrenched in our soul, what message can we send?” Uddhava says: “Close your eyes and meditate on Him in your heart.” The gopis cry: “But Uddhava, how can we close our eyes? Look, there He is on the tree, on each leaf, now in the Yamuna, there grazing that cow, look around, Krishna is everywhere. Krishna is smiling at us, He is stealing our butter.”
Radha then becomes Krishna and dances with the gopis and plays the flute. Like Krishna she teases them, hides behind trees and runs away. Till now Uddhava had meditated upon Krishna in his heart with closed eyes but now he sees Krishna everywhere. A transformation comes over Uddhava who cries on seeing the gopis and bows to them in reverence. No wonder Krishna’s dance of love is unsurpassable and if one even witnesses an enactment of it one might understand the true import of divine love.
Holi: the significance of the festival