The festival of fun, frolic, togetherness, happiness, the festival of Holi, also has a mythological importance attached to it. Not many are aware of the reason why this amazing festival is celebrated. There are multiple legends associated with Holi but the one behind the Holika Dahan, is the most prominent one. This legend is about Holika, her brother – Hiranyakashyap, his son – Prahlad and most importantly about Lord Vishnu!
Hiranyakashyap was an egoistic king, a ruthless ruler and a lover of wealth. His name literally translates to one who is “clothed in gold”. Angered by the slaying of his brother Hiranyakashya by Varaaha (an avatar of Lord Vishnu), Hiranyakashyap did a Tapasya and prayed to Lord Brahma. The latter was pleased by his devotion and gave him a boon. Hiranyakashyapa asked for a very distinct blessing – He cannot be killed by any living creature created by Lord Brahma, he cannot be killed within a residence or outside it, he cannot be killed in the day or at night, he cannot be killed by a man or an animal and also he cannot be killed on the ground or in the sky.
Being blessed with such a boon gave him the feeling that he was blessed with immortality. This fuelled his ego and he forced everyone to worship only him. But his own son went against this ruling. Prahlad, Hiranyakashyap’s son, who was a saint by nature, a person loved by the fellow people in his kingdom and most importantly – an ardent Bhakt of Lord Vishnu! His devotion began when he was a mere foetus in his mother’s womb. It was a result of him hearing Narada chanting Lord Vishnu’s praise, who also had mentored him. His belief in Lord Vishnu angered the father to such an extent that Hiranyakashyap wished to punish his son by giving him a painful death.
Hiranyakashyap tried to push him off a cliff – But Prahlad was saved by Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap again tried to get Prahlad trampled upon by elephants; he was again saved by his devotion to Lord Vishnu. Failing so many times fuels Hiranayakashyap’s anger and he decided to play a trump card! His sister Holika was blessed that if she wears a special cloak garment she would be unhurt by fire even when she is sitting on it. He makes Holika sit on fire with Prahlad in her lap. But the boon suddenly turns to a bane as Prahlad was saved by Vishnu and Holika was sacrificed. What she and her brother did not know was that she could be unhurt by fire only if she sits in it alone!
Fed up by his son’s devotion, Hiranyakashyap got furious and smashes a pillar from which Lord Narasimha arrives. A ferocious avatar of Lord Vishnu, the name Narasimha states that he’s half human and half Lion. To not go against Lord Brahma and his boon to Hiranyakashyap, Lord Vishnu in his Narasimha avatar killed Hiranyakashyap at dusk, on the doorstep, on his lap using his lion claws to tear his belly apart. Thus good conquered over evil!
Holika Dahan is carried out each year since then to remember the victory of good over evil. The Holi festival gets its name from Holika. It is celebrated a day prior to playing Holi with colours, with a bonfire that is lit to signify the death of Holika. It celebrates the victory of devotion and rightfulness. Offerings made to this pyre signifies giving up of bad things. People also take parikramas i.e. they circumambulate the fire so as to seek blessings from Lord Vishnu and Prahlad and also learn the importance of giving up on ego and overconfidence. Participating in the Holika Dahan ceremony helps you reinstate your belief in goodness and how it always triumphs over evil.