3 Fascinating Legends Behind Holi

By Komal Narwani

Holi, the festival of colours, is a beautiful way to bid winter and celebrate the advent of spring. Almost every festival in India has interesting legends behind it. Here are some associated with the festival of Holi.

Prahlad and Holika
Script: Kamala Chandrakant, Illustration: Souren Roy

The most popular legend behind celebrating Holi is of Prahlad and Holika. Hiranyakashipu was a demon king who would command the people of his kingdom to worship him like a divine being. Afraid of his power, everybody obeyed his command except for his son, Prahlad. Prahlad was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu and refused to worship his father. Infuriated by his son’s disobedience, he attempted to history him numerous times in different ways. When all his attempts failed, he turned to his sister, Holika, for help.

Holika was blessed with immunity to fire so she decided to trick Prahlad into sitting in a bonfire with him. She thought that she would be safe and Prahlad would be down into ashes. While sitting on the bonfire, Prahlad chanted Vishnu’s name. Due to her evil intentions, Holika’s immunity vanished and she was burnt to death while Prahlad's devotion saved him! This is the reason, the eve of Holi is celebrated by lighting pyre. This is called Holika Dahan. It symbolises the triumph of good over evil.

Radha and Krishna

According to a regional folktale of Vrindavan and Mathura, Holi is played in the spirit of the divine love of Radha and Krishna. Baby Krishna, once drank poisoned milk from the breast of a demon called Putana and acquired a dark blue colour. Later, he started complaining to his mother, Yashoda, about how his skin was so different from Radha's. Yashoda playfully told him that he could colour Radha’s face and make their skin the same colour.

Krishna got enthralled by this idea and smudged the colour on Radha’s face. This is why the festival of Holi is associated with applying colours to the people you love.

Shiva and Sati

Another myth suggests Kamadeva’s sacrifice as the reason for Holi celebrations. Shiva’s consort, Sati immolated herself when she heard her father insulting her husband. Hearing about the demise of his beloved, Shiva gave up all the worldly pleasures and went into a deep meditation. Tarakasura, a demon, due to his penance, was granted a boon that no one except Lord Shiva’s son could kill him. Knowing that Shiva would never marry again, he started creating havoc in heaven and on earth. The gods turned to Kamadeva, the God of love, for help.

Script: Kamala Chandrakant, Illustration: Ram Waeerkar

In spite of knowing that he would invoke Shiva's rage, Kamadeva agreed to help. He along with Goddess Parvati, the incarnation of Sati, went to Shiva because Parvati loved Shiva and wished to marry him. Kamadeva shot the cupid's arrow at Shiva, which disturbed his meditation. In his anger, Shiva opened his third eye and burnt Kamadeva to ashes. However, the arrow did its magic and Shiva was besotted with Parvati.  Shiva and Parvati got married and gave birth to Kartikeya, who went on to defeat Tarakasura. After Shiva was told the reason for interrupting his meditation, he revived Kamadeva as an invisible spirit of love and spread him across the cosmos. Therefore, the eve of Holi is celebrated with a bonfire to remember Kamadeva’s sacrifice and the next day with colours to celebrate the bliss of love.

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