Holi Moley! March 8 is indeed the date this year for Holi, one of the most “colourful” of Indian festivals. Witness the wet folks covered in purple, yellow, red and blue dancing in the courtyard of my apartment block today. The Bollywood “holi music” is blaring into the windy spring air, and it takes a true “Indophile” to appreciate this fully. Fascinating how all these rituals survive for centuries and find their way into the modern day with plastic squirt guns the kids love and the barrels of water with powders of colour mixed in I only hope are not harmful. Not that most people care, I’m sure. Dunno but it must be Holi that brought Paint Ball parks to North America, don’t you think?
Google tells me that the literal meaning of the word ‘Holi’ is ‘burning’. There are various legends to explain the meaning of this word, most prominent of all is the legend associated with demon king Hiranyakashyap. He wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship him only but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. Hiaranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion. It has also become the symbol of the start of spring in early March.
In the modern day, the rainbow of colours are used to celebrate this triumph of good with people throwing buckets of coloured water over each other or just throwing the powder into the wind in some parts of India, or smearing colours onto their bodies.
Yeah, those of us who also celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, it’s a bit tought to swallow in the above legend the fact that it was Holika who paid the price for the “evil” as a woman. Prahlad, the son, got saved because of his deep devotion never mind to whom. Let the legend and mythology rest in peace; we ALL know the gender roles and customs are deeply embedded in the ancient past. Perhaps it’s important to remember that Hinduism also has so many fabulous goddesses that represent the power, enlightenment and generosity of women.
Happy Holi while I keep listening to the absolutely fascinating Bollywood tunes as the day is turning into its colourful afternoon. And happy IWD to friends afar! The world is indeed as complex as ever.