Holi, the festival of colors is celebrated all over India with great enthusiasm and of course, with a lot of colors! Just like all the other Indian festivals, there are a lot of legends associated with Holi. Check out some of them below!
1.Hiranyakashyapa, Prahlad and Holika
According to this legend, Lord Brahma, happy with Hiranyakashyap's heavy penance, granted a boon of immortality to the demon king. However, the king abused his power by forcing people to not worship deities especially Lord Vishnu. If anyone in his kingdom even uttered Lord Vishnu’s name, they were punished severely or even killed. No one dared to worship Gods, such was his terror. He even threatened the Gurus in the Gurukuls to not teach children about Lord Vishnu and his incarnations.
However, to his dismay, his own son, Prahlad, turned out to be an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap did everything to stop Prahlad from ‘this utterly shameful act’ as he put it, but the young prince continued worshipping the Lord.
Tired of his son’s antics, Hiranyakashyap finally decided to kill Prahlad inconspicuously. He tried all possible tricks like poisoning his food, throwing him from a high cliff, shooting arrows in his flesh, but none of his plans were fruitful for Prahlad had Lord Vishnu as his protector.
Frustrated by his failed attempts, he called for his sister Holika, who was given a boon of surviving fire. When he revealed his evil plans to her, Holika was completely baffled as she loved her nephew dearly and was terrified at the thought of killing him. She persuaded her brother to not indulge in this evil doing by reminding him that he would have no hir if he killed his only son. However, arrogant Hiranyakashyap waved away her argument by saying that he wouldn’t need an heir if he lives forever and even if he needs one, he’ll adopt Holika’s son.
Holika, though disheartened, couldn’t refuse her elder brother’s order. At last, it was decided that Holika would take Prahlad on her lap and sit with him on a wood pyre. When they both will be seated there, the pyre would be set afire. At that time, Prahlad would have no protection and would succumb to death while Holika who had the boon to survive fire would come out of alive. This evil plan was put to action on Poornima (full moon day) of Phalgun (last month of Hindu calendar).
As planned, Prahlad and Holika sat on the wooden pyre. After the fire was lit, the atmosphere was enveloped in black smoke. Soon, high-pitched shrieks of agony pierced the air. Hiranyakashyap laughed in evil mirth, but his joy didn’t last long as he finally registered the voice. It was the high-pitched screech of Holika who was screaming in pure agony “Bhrata Shree meri raksha kijiye!” (Big brother please save me!). Holika could not survive this fire as she forgot that Lord Brahma had granted her this boon only if she did not use it for evil purposes.
But Hiranyakashyap couldn’t do anything except stare in utter disbelief, horror, and helplessness. After the screams died away, the smoke slowly parted, and there was Prahlad safe and sound, chanting away Lord Vishnu’s name, without any care in the world.
This is one of the most widely known legends associated with the festival of Holi that is replicated every year in Hindu households. It is said that when we light a fire in front of our houses on the eve of Holi, we burn the evil inside us and pray for the goodness of the heart.
2. Radha and Krishna
It is said that Lord Krishna, who always complained about his dark complexion, once asked his mother Mata Yashoda, the reason behind Radha’s fair skin. Mata Yashoda playfully suggested that Radha would no longer be fair if Krishna smears colors on her face. The mischievous Krishna, fascinated by this idea, immediately brought this idea into action and thus introduced the festival of colors. The Holi in Braj is still celebrated as it was during Krishna’s time, with the same intimacy and love.
Holi Celebration in Braj
3. Kamadeva and Lord Shiva
In Tamil Nadu, Holi is known by three different names: Kamavilas, Kaman Pandigai, and Kama-Dahanam. As you must have already noticed, one word is common in all these names- ‘Kama’. This is because the legend of the south revolves around Lord Shiva and Kamadeva, the God of Love.
According to Hindu Mythology, Lord Shiva’s wife, Sati, had jumped in the yajna Kunda (holy pyre where a fire is worshipped to impress the gods) because her father King Daksha insulted her husband. Lord Shiva, who was immensely hurt by this event renounced his worldly duties and went into a deep meditation.
Since Shiva had completely ignored his worldly duties, complications began to arise in the matters of the world. Gods who were afraid and worried sought the help of Kamadeva to bring Lord Shiva back to his original self. Kamadeva knew he was committing a serious mistake and he would surely pay for it but for the sake of the world, he decided to make the sacrifice. Meanwhile the daughter of the Himalayas, Devi Parvati started meditating to win over her love, Lord Shiva.
As planned, he shot his arrow at Lord Shiva while he was meditating. Furious, Lord Shiva furious opened his third eye and burned Kamadeva to ashes. Kamadeva’s arrow, though, did its job as Lord Shiva was overcome by immense love and decided to marry Devi Parvati.
This day when Kamadeva was burnt to ashes is celebrated as Holi in the southern regions of India in honor of his sacrifice for the good of the world.
Lord Shiva and Kamadeva
4. The Legend of Demoness Putana
It is said that Demon King Kansa killed his sister seven children as it was prophesized that her eighth child would bring him death. Unfortunately for Kansa, his sister arranged for her eighth child's safety before he could reach him. In a fit of rage, he summoned a demoness named Putana and ordered her to kill all the infants who were born recently in the vicinity of Mathura.
She did as she was told but when she heard of little Krishna, she realized that he was not an ordinary child. So she disguised herself as a beautiful goddess and asked Yashoda if she could feed her milk to her baby boy Krishna as she was a blessed woman and any child who will feed her milk will be blessed too.
Yashoda, overcome by love, gladly accepted the offer and allowed the disguised Putana to feed her baby. However, Putana’s milk was poisonous and so when baby Krishna latched onto her she became ecstatic on completing her task, but to her utter horror the baby bit her forcefully and she died in immense pain.
The death of this dreadful demoness and baby Krishna’s victory was celebrated by all the citizens, and so, Holi is also associated with the celebrations of that day.
The Infant Krishna Slays the Demoness Putana Guler, circa 1780-90
5. The Legend of Dhundi
Dhundi was an ogress who lived in the kingdom of King Prithu and was famous for troubling children. Dhundi, who had gained a boon from Lord Shiva that she couldn’t be killed by gods or men, from arms or weapons and even cold or heat, was turning to be a nuisance for King Prithu. It seemed that there wasn’t any way to kill her until the royal priest told the King that she also had a weak point. Lord Shiva had cursed her that she would be in danger from irrational behaviour of boys.
On hearing this, King Prithu asked all the village boys to get together on the Poornima of Phalguna when the season of cold vanishes and the summer starts. These boys were told to do all sorts of pranks and use all rude words and gestures and dance and sing crazily around a fire. The village boys joined hands and completed the task of killing Dhundi by their pranks and plays. This is also the reason why the rowdy behavior of boys on Holi is ignored.
Dhundi: The Ogress
These were the legends associated with the festival of Holi. Whatever the region, the whole country celebrates this festival of colors with passion and enthusiasm. Sweets and plates of colors are exchanged and Holika Dahan is performed by every family. This festival is also the last festival in the Hindu calendar and thus implies that we should burn all the anger, jealousy and evil that had tinted our minds in the year and should pray for kindness and warm-heartedness.
Pratha Content Writing Intern