This is in continuation to my previous article on HOLI festival (21st February). I wrote that the festival is on 1st March, that is next Monday and I wrote about how joyously it is celebrated. In this article I shall tell you about the origins of this celebration. There are a number of ancient legends for the celebration of Holi. I shall narrate the three most popular versions.
Manmada or Kamadeva is the Hindu God of Love. Kamadeva shot his arrow of love at Lord Shiva and disrupted his penance in order to help Goddess Parvati Devi marry Shiva. This disruption angered Shiva and he opened his third eye. The anger and the gaze of the eye were so powerful that Kamadeva’s body was reduced to ashes. Later for the sake of Rati Devi, wife of Kamadeva, Lord Shiva restored him but only as a mental image, representing the true emotional and spiritual state of love rather than the physical. The bonfire I mentioned in my previous article as Kamunni Kalchadam on the day prior to Holi is to commemorate this event (burning of Kamadeva). And the next day after the anger has subsided and everything is normal it is celebration time with colors and sweets.
Another version is as follows: Hiranyakashipu is the king of demons and an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. His young son Prahlada is a devotee of Lord Vishnu and Hiranyakashipu hates Lord Vishnu. The King tries his best to transform his son but is not successful. He then decides to kill him. He gets Prahlada trampled by elephants but the boy remains unharmed. He tries various other methods like throwing him down a hill, leaving him amidst poisonous snakes but the boy survives every time. Holika is the sister of Hiranyakashipu and she has a special shawl with her which would protect her from fire. So he asks his sister to sit on a pyre and hold Prahlada so that he would not escape and get burnt, while his sister would be unaffected. But as soon as the fire is lit the shawl flies off Holika and she is burnt to death and ever-praying Vishnu devotee Prahlada survives. The burning away of evil Holika and subsequently the death of Hiranayakashipu by Lord Narasimhaswamy is celebrated as Holi.
The last version I wish to narrate involves Lord Krishna. As we all know, Lord Krishna was not only performing Godly acts in childhood but was also a naughty boy. He loved butter so much that he was stealing it all the time even from the houses of neighbors. He was constantly playing pranks on his beloved Radha and innumerable Gopikas (cowherd girls), for instance he was teasing them by hiding their clothes. As a young boy he asked his mother Yashoda the reason behind his dark complexion and the fair complexion of Radha. Yashoda playfully suggested that he should smear color on Radha’s face to change her complexion to suit his fancy instead of complaining. Thus Lord Krishna began to enjoy smearing colors not just on Radha but several Gopikas and in the process introduced the play of colors on the day of HOLI festival.