Indian mythology is filled with legends of victory of good over evil. We celebrate these legends with much zeal and enthusiasm. With the upcoming festival of Holi, India is again preparing for the celebration of triumph of devotion over evil. Celebrated on the Phalgun Poornima (full moon), Holi is a two day festival preceded by Holika Dahan where bonfires around the country are burned to relive the triumph of Prahlad over Hiranyakashyapu. Also known as Samvatsar Dahan, Chhoti Holi, Kamadu pyre, Holika Dahan is celebrated widely around many parts of India.

The Legend

The story of Holi is centered around the demon king Hiranyakashyapu, who in order to avenge his brother’s death by Lord Vishnu, performs penance for Lord Brahma and earns a boon that render him almost indestructible. He cannot be killed by a human or animal; by hand weapons or automated weapons; neither in the day nor at night; neither outside nor inside a house; neither on the ground nor in the sky. To his disappointment, his son Prahlad grew up to be an ardent devotee of Vishnu which angered Hiranyakashyapu to such extent that he ordered for his son to be killed.

However, Prahlad’s faith to Vishnu never faltered resulting in him being saved by the Lord in every attempt. Hiranyakashayapu’s sister Holika stepped up and offered to help him by offering to sit in the fire with Prahlad. Holika was blessed by the gods to be immune to fire. There are various versions of the legend that describe how Holika was killed. The most prominent is that Lord Vishnu saved Prahlad by letting Holika burn as she misused her power.

Lord Vishnu, appears in the avatar of Narasimha that is an incarnation of part man and part lion (neither man nor animal), kills Hiranyakashyapu on the threshold of the palace (neither inside nor outside) on his lap (neither on ground nor in sky) by disemboweling him with his mighty claws (neither handheld weapons nor automated) at dusk time (neither day nor night).
Every year, a day before Holi, Holika Dahan is celebrated to commemorate this event where Prahlad was rewarded for his unwavering devotion reinforcing the power of faith.

Holika Dahan Celebrations

Holika Dahan is performed in a way to recreate the event of Holika’s burning. Women start preparing for the Dahan traditionally 40 days before by making cow dung cakes and collecting wood, coconut, twigs and branches. Women prepare effigies of Holika with Prahlad seated in her lap and place it on the top of the pyre. The effigy of Holika is combustible, however, Prahlad’s effigy is prepared with materials that cannot burn to further signify the legend of Prahlad’s victory over his evil father Hiranyakashyapu. Children and men collect flammable materials and make the pyre for Holika to be burned. These pyres are prepared collectively by communities in public places where everyone can join in.

At dusk time, women gather around the pyre, place their offerings and sing chants performing parikrama around the pyre. The pyre is set on fire symbolizing Holika Dahan. People take pride in the legend of Holika and Prahlad, sing songs in praise of the Lord and exchange festivities and delicacies.The morning after, the ashes of the fire are collected and applied on one’s body. The edible materials like chickpeas and coconuts are consumed by people as Prasad.

Following the celebration, comes the grand celebration of Holi which is also called the “festival of colors” as people enjoy the day by coloring each other with colorful powders.

Holika Dahan Celebrations in India

As per reports, on 20th March, Holika Dahan will be celebrated in 700 places in India. Holika is burned at a set muhurat (auspicious time), which is set for 3 hours 30 mins this year. The time is set from 20:57 to 24: 28 on Wednesday, 20th March, 2019. Many communities are preparing to celebrate this Holika Dahan as protest against terrorism amidst the recent disturbances observed in the country.

Celebrations in Banaras, Pushkar and Mathura are especially anticipated for the grand events that take place as part of the two day long festival. While this is a day to be commemorated for all the right reasons, many movements have already begun in places where people are trying to take care of the environment amidst the high spirits engulfing the crowds. In preparation for the Dahan, many cut down growing trees. Started from Meerut, many are trying to save trees by creating awareness for well being of the already suffering environment.

We know you are also high in anticipation for the grand festival, this year, we urge you to think of the environment first.

Happy Holi!