One of the most fascinating tales of every Indian child is the story of Bhakt Prahlad and the pyre of Holika. Holi is one of the most revered festivals of Hindus who celebrate it with dry colours, water and feisty snacks and bhang. While the day itself is filled with pomp and excitement, the evening prior to the actual event is equally auspicious. Holika bonfire is a symbol of the triumph of devotion over deception. It marks how unwavering faith can surpass the test of fire. Holika bonfire is also called as Kumudu pyre and Holika dahan.
Hindu puranas make interesting narrations on how demons always wanted to win the heavens and Indrapuri. They always performed penance for years and avowed their devotion towards Brahama-Vishnu-Mahesh. Holika too was one such demon. She was the sister of Hiranayaksa and Hiranyakashepu. She was the paternal aunt of Bhakta Prahlad and ancestor of Kin Bali. Holika was empowered with capacity to enter and face fire without getting burnt. Bhakta Prahlad was sentenced to sit with Holika on a pyre to prove his faith towards Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashepu teased Prahlad that there is no Vishnu and if he is there he should come and protect him from getting burnt. When the pyre was lit, Holika was laughing and Prahlad was constantly praying. When the fire died down, Holika had vaporised while Prahlad was still chanting. Whereas some connect Holika to evil, some believe she was a good demon and saved Prahlad from getting burnt and died herself.
Holika ritual is beautifully described in Vishnu Purana, Narad Purana, Bhavishya Purana and Dasakumar Charita. Poet Kalidasa has used numerous instances of Holika bonfire in his compositions. The most vivid narration of Holika bonfire is made in the 7th century Sanskrit drama named Ratnavali. As a mark of respect towards Fire God, the bonfire set up becomes a holy place and hymns are chanted as an appeal for prosperity.
Hoilka bonfire is a community event. The kids and men start gathering dry branches and logs of Mango trees at least a month before the bonfire. The logs are applied with ghee and dried. Small twigs and bamboo leaves are also used to erect a bonfire set up standing 7-8 feet high. On the night of Holika bonfire coinciding with Phalgun Purnima, the erection is sprinkled with coconut water and ghee. The bonfire is lit accompanied by the chants of Rakshoghna Mantra from Rig Veda, Hanuman Chalisa, Gaytri Mantra and Shiva Mritunujaya Jaap. Rice grains, vermillion and coconut are offered to the fire as devotion.
A lap of victory and faith is performed around the Holika Bonfire. Newly wed women touch the feet of their elders and seek blessings from husbands. Kids also pay their greetings to the elders and apply colours to their friends. Home-made sweet dishes like barfis, sandesh, gujiyas and malpuas are distributed in the community. Married women apply vermillion on the foreheads of each other. The offered coconuts are carefully pulled out from fire and distributed as prasadam.