The Holi Story!

  • Holi is perhaps, along with Diwali, the most visually delightful festival celebrated in India. And boy, is it a feast for photographers!

    As with most festivals celebrated in India, Holi is also a religious festival, which usually celebrates the advent of spring and a good harvest.

    As in the case of Shiv Ratri, there is an interesting mythological story behind the celebration of Holi.

    Hiranyakashipu was the great king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after which he had demanded that he not be killed “during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra (weapons)nor by shastra (rules)”. Consequently, he grew arrogant and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping gods and start praising respectfully to him.

    According to this belief, Hiranyakashipu’s own son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Vishnu. In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Vishnu. He was poisoned by Hiranyakashipu, but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, poisonous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu’s attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlada to sit on a pyre in the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s demoness sister, who also could not die because she had a boon preventing her from being burned by fire. Prahlada readily accepted his father’s orders, and prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed. The salvation of Prahlada and burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.*


    The festival is celebrated with people playing with powdered colours. The festival usually starts the night before. Bonfires are lit by collecting old twigs and leaves that have fallen from the trees. After this, prayers are offered. This ritual is known as Chhoti Holi (Little Holi) or Holika Dahan.

    This year I was present at one such place where the bonfire was lit. This bonfire had one major difference from the ones I remember lighting during my childhood days. Our bonfires were made of old leaves and branches which had fallen from trees during winter. The bonfires were meant to be sort of a spring cleaning, to make way for new leaves and flowers.  But, the bonfire I witnessed this year was made of hay and cow dung primarily which meant, once the fire was lit, there was lot of smoke. The event started as late as 11:30 p.m. and continued till way past midnight.

    You can click on the photographs to enlarge.

    I reached home at about 1 a.m. in the morning, tired but in anticipation of the main festival of Holi in the morning, when people would smear each other with colours.

    To be continued…….

  • 17 thoughts on “The Holi Story!

    1. Wow, the bonfire pictures are really amazing! I liked especially the one of the elderly gentleman in glasses reading with the fire blazing behind him. Thanks for the information, I found the story of Prahlada fascinating! 🙂

      • Merci beaucoup!! ( that’s all I know of french 😀 ) I must apologise though for not describing the photographs…the person is actually holding a papad ( yeah…of lijjat fame) apparently one of the customs is to roast papad in the bonfire…
        Even I found the story of Prahlada interesting 🙂

    2. There are some real gems in there, Know-All. Figure out which ones they are, and then put them in a special folder – no more than one or two per post. After a few posts, you will have material worth submitting to a magazine… Slow, steady, and keep going. I’m loving what i’m seeing.

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