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Holy festival – the true spirit ,with which it is to be celebrated.- Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon

Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon Published on 11 March, 2014
Holy festival – the true spirit ,with which it is to be celebrated.- Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon
India is a land of colorful festivals which occur almost round the year. Festivals are the days of celebration and occasions for fun and merry making .Indian festivals have also deeper meaning than as occasions for joy, fun and frivolic. There are judicious rationale and legends behind each festival which have spiritual meaning and which teach us practical lessons for our everyday living.  it is the recognition of auspiciousness and   joy,  which prompts celebration .It is the spirit of optimism  or our belief in the lighter side of affairs  that prompts us to conceive  and celebrate festivals . Our Hindu culture is interwoven with festivals and epics , which  are the modus oprandi followed in guiding the people through right paths of living .As Hindu faith assigns divinity to nature and  our  country being predominantly agricultural culture , we find many local festivals associated with harvesting time, indicative of nature’s bounty like Onum , Pongal, Vishu, Holi, Bisaki  and so on. Celebration of festivals helps us sustain our sense of hope or optimism  and keeps us in high spirits .We derive  several benefits , if we understand and assimilate the real spirit  underlying the celebration of festivals .Festivals are also occasions to promote fraternity and brotherhood or camaraderie  among people , which people are expected to practice during other times also and which help us to live in peace and  harmony .  Particularly  in today’s  machine- paced  fast life, human  relationships are  hardly given it’s due place, festival occasions  give chance to renew the lost ties between man and man , if we use such occasions  to  practice  human relationships as   our second nature . Festivals, being auspicious in nature should result in auspicious outcomes and not in harmful results. Festivals should not be ostentatious display of wealth, many times ill-gotten nor should it be one of lavish spending beyond one’s means.

Holy which is a very ancient festival is celebrated during the season of harvesting winter crops or rabbi crops in most parts of our country except south. So the origin of Holi celebration is in those parts. Later due to influx of people of those regions to the southern  parts and happy assimilation of culture , holi  festival started  being celebrated in the south .Now it is celebrated though out length and breadth of our country,  though we find some regional variations in the rituals and practices associated with celebration .In some states it is celebrated for 2 days, in other places like Vrindavan and  Mathura where Lord Krishna grew up,  the celebration goes on for 16 days  to commemorate  the divine love of Radha and Gopis for Krishna. There is a description of this festival in the Jaimini’s Purvamimamsa sutra. It has become symbol of national identity and makes us feel oneness among us. It is a socio-cultural force of national integration. It makes us feel that we are Indians first and last.  On the first day, in the evening, people in the neighborhood assemble and  lit a bonfire  and sing and dance around it. Holi festival is also called ‘vasanthoslav ‘or spring festival, because it is celebrated during spring season in the northern and eastern parts of India. It is also called as ‘Kamotsav ‘meaning festival of Kamadeva, the God of love in Indian mythology.

Holi  festival falls on  month of phalguna , March  on full moon or poornima day  This year  (2014) it falls on 17th of March .It is celebrated even by   generations of Indians settled down in other countries, where ever Indians  are settled .  which shows the  force of culture and cultural identity . In U.S.A  Indian Americans celebrate holi with pomp and glory starting from March and extending further.

Generally Holi is celebrated on two days. The preparation for holi celebration starts days ahead. Boys go round and collect branches of trees to be used as firewood for preparing bonfire. On the evening of holi day, people in the neighborhood assemble in a place and prepare bonfire. They  sing and dance round the bonfire .It  is interpreted in two ways : 1 After a long winter where there is dullness , when the spring season begins , people bid  goodbye  to chilling winter. Second, the practice of making bonfire is linked with the story of demon Hiranyakashsipu, son of demon Hiranyaksha, his sister Holika and his son Prahlad. Hianyakashipu, demon king   who ruled over heaven and earth was dead against devas and wanted everyone to worship him and not devas. .His son Prahlad  was a staunch devotee of   Supreme  lord Narayana, reclining on the serpent  Aadishesha  and refused to worship his father as the supreme lord .He tried his level best to convert his son  and make him follow the culture of demons , who were personification of all vices . Having failed in his efforts , he made many attempts  to kill him, thinking that he would follow the clan of devas , when he grew up and succeeded him and that it would be end of asuras . Prahlad was forced to drink poison. It is said that poison turned into nectar in his body. He was trampled by elephants, but he came unhurt. He was pushed into a pit full of snakes, but nothing happened to him due to strong faith and devotion to Lord Narayana, one responsible for the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the universe. 

Hiranyakashipu’s sister by name Holi had got the boon from Brahma from her severe penance that she would not be destroyed by fire   , if she alone entered fire .Hirinyakshipu thought of using her power to kill his son. As per his instruction, Holika took Prahlad in her lap , as if to fondle him and entered  the blazing fire . She had forgotten that there was a rider in the boon granted to her that she would not be destroyed by fire, only if she entered  fire alone. She entered with Prahlad, forgetting that condition.Prahlad was all the time chanting the name of Narayana and meditating on him. He came out of fire absolutely safe due to grace of Lord Narayana  and Holika was burnt to ashes . This shows victory of virtues over evils. Prahalad was commonly known as Baktha Prahlad. He believed that God existed in everything both in animate an even in inanimate objects. When  his father  pointing out to the iron pillar  in the palace  asked him whether there was God in it , Prahlad answered that that that God was present in it and that he could see God in the iron  pillar . When Hirinyakasipu stuck the pillar with his sord, challenging whether God would appear, he to his amazement saw God in the form of Narasimha or  in the form of half man  and half lion with lion’s face and man’s body suddenly appearing from the pillar. Lord Narasimha tore the chest of Hirnyakaspu into two halves and killed  him instantly . That was the strength of his faith in divinity. Here the lesson for us that we should see divinity in everyone and everything around us and  hence treat them with kindness and compassion and that serving fellow men  in need is serving God.  As Prahlad had no other thoughts except that of God, he was least apprehensive of danger to his life. God shielded him from all dangers. He felt at ease in his aunt’s company, though he knew about her malign motive. What happened, it seems, was that she was burnt to ashes and Prahlad came out unscathed or escaped miraculously due to his self-discipline or control over his senses, chaste disposition, noble deeds and unshakable devotion to God. It is symbolic of victory of good over evil ,divinity over demonic force and  shows one can achieve anything with strong faith  in what one  is doing  and ‘lakshyabodha’ or one-pointed attention and  resolution. The episode depicts that conduct of virtues will win over conduct of vices. This is the lesson we have to learn from this episode, without questioning whether, it actually happened or whether it was a concocted story. The word Holi means ‘ burning ‘ , the word Holika  is linked with fire, one who got immunity against fire .The name Holi festival  is derived from  these  meanings . Holi is also called as ‘Holika dhahanam’ or burning of Holika. Agni or God of fire, which is propitiated by ancient Rishis on wards, which  represents God. All gods are pleased by sacrifices made to fire. Fire purifies sins. All pure souls are untouched and unhurt by Fire. In Ramayana, Sita Devi jumped into blazing fire to prove her chastity and nobility after   her return to Ayodhya after captivity in Lanka, she came out unscathed. The  celebration of Holi festival is true to its spirit , only if it   makes  to eschew the evil qualities in us and  imbibe good qualities   and practice them in our day to day life .We should emulate  Bakta Prahlad , who though took birth in the clan of demons , developed  divine qualities through self-efforts. Our destiny is not sealed by our past actions. It is within our power to change our destiny  for better by sublime  actions.Hiranyakashipu   had obtained boon that none in the form of God or man would be able to kill him  , nor could be killed either during day or night, neither inside or outside house and neither in heaven or earth . He had got near immunity to death. Because of the atrocities created by him, to get rid of him was need of the hour. On appeal from Gods, Lord Narayana assumed the form of Narasimha with upper half of the body resembling lion and lower half that of man.  when Hirinyakasipu, ultimately attempted to kill his son with his own hand , Lord appeared in Narasimha avatar and   killed  Hiranyakasipu  by tearing his chest with his paws and claws .This shows how ever  much we plan to avert crisis happening to us , it will befall on us  , if we follow paths of immorality and injustice .  God is always with person of virtues and who have attained mastery over themselves or who live for others.

On the second day of Holi people play with colors. There are stories  of how this practice was started . One version is that Lord Krishna noticed how lighter was Radha’s complexion.. His mother suggested in light vein that Krishna should smear colors on Radha’s cheeks. He did accordingly. Radha returned it with equal vigor. Thus this practice  was followed by Krishna devotees . another version is that Lord Krishna celebrated this festival with  Radha and Gopis  when they smeared each other’s face gleefully .

  People assemble and  take extreme delight  in applying colors  and spraying colored water on each other. It is called’ Dhuleti’ playing with colors . It is taken in sportive spirit and in good humor .It is a way of showing pure or universal love and not sensuous love towards each other .It is done innocently , in the sense as childhood prank  or without motive of   hurting others. It helps to shake off the inhibitions and come out of one’s shell or seclusion.  People, irrespective of their age enjoy play of colors. What does this play of colors signify? It is relating to each other with warmth and open heart , without inhibitions and   feelings of  reservations we usually harbor .It is   not expression of physical love  or love influenced by lust ,but pure or universal love  , the force of attraction and bond between all creations .People become spontaneous in their behaviors like children. The warmth of personal relationships flows from the bottom of the heart. we should keep these and experience these feelings ., otherwise  the play of color deteriorates into one of mean quality . The members of the opposite sex should show brotherly and sisterly feelings towards each other, while engaging in the play of color, by putting deliberate efforts. Our sadistic instincts or tendency to inflict pain to others and amorous motives may spring up in our minds thinking that we can run wild, without censure. The purpose of play with color will be defeated, if that happens. It teaches  us the lesson that   we should not have unnecessary inhibitions and should not be too touchy, on the other hand, we should be  open minded and light- hearted  and at the same time we should have  necessary restraint  on our behavior  or maintain decorum in our conduct . we should not take everything too seriously or take to our heart for keeping good mental health and  for healthy interpersonal and social life  . We should not build mountain out of molehill. We should appear with a face with gentle smile rather than with puffed up face .We should be relaxed rather than being tensed up all the time, due to perceived pressures from outside.
The riots of colors used represent the pleasant colors and moods of spring season when the nature is at her best. It is said that the nature spruces up to celebrate Holi festival and the people swing along with the mood of the seasons.

Colors are expressions of beauty.  Satyam or truth, Sivam or goodness and Sundaram or beauty are the three fundamental human values and universal spirit. Appreciation  of color is appreciation of beauty .Nature is the finest example of beauty with  abundance of colors and shapes  that are seen  in every  creations in the universe , sun, moon, stars, trees , animals, flowers, sky , mountains, rivers, clouds, glaziers and what not . Nature is the greatest Artist, who has played with all possible shades of eye catching colors. God has given man the privilege of eyesight including capability for color vision in much more developed form than seen in subhuman species. Imagine the world without light and colors. Persons who lost their vision later after birth can know how deprived they in enjoying the beauty outside.  Though our surroundings are most beautiful, we hardly observe, appreciate and enjoy the beauty of nature. The practice of play with colors during Holi should help us to reawaken our sense of appreciation of beauty which is nothing short of being a part of divinity. Colors have soothing effect on us, if chosen appropriately. They affect our moods. For instance, green color gives the feelings of peacefulness and tranquility of mind and red color energizes us and make us active.    The rainbows with its seven colors, the changing colors of clouds in a clear sky , the emerald  green of meadows, peacock feathers ,the tiger’s  and Antelope’s skins , the parrot’s body , the butterflies and plumes of several other birds, and the skins of snakes  are wonders in color combinations . One clear message that comes out of play of color during Holi festival is that we should appreciate and enjoy  the beauty of nature , which nature has given us free and  which helps the expansion of our minds and make them working more wholesome . All of us are overanxious about our appearance or how we put up before others, in a wrong way.  We spend considerable time in personal makeup. This is not appreciation of beauty. We do it for show off. When we do it for show off, we feel anxious , with the result  that it  not only fails to contribute  to our wellbeing ,  but it also affects our  self-esteem or feelings of worth of oneself. With  our excessive preoccupation  with our the so-called physical beauty , we  worry when  age related deteriorative changes take place and try our level best to keep up  youthful look.  Fear of growing old haunts us.    We should present ourselves neatly and elegantly not to impress upon others, but to make us feel good , which comes out of  our rare gift of appreciation and enjoyment of beauty . In using  different colors  during Holi , there is also a belief  that  combination of varied colors and hues takes away all worries and makes life more colorful , color representing  joy, happiness and rejuvenation of spirit . All colors originate from a single color white. This reveals the age old  discovery of our seers that there is unity underlying everything , all earthly creations, the upanishadic saying s’That  though art ‘or ‘Tatwamasi’.

The play with colors is also linked with the epic of stories of Lord Krishna, the 8th avathar or incarnation of Vishnu   born in human form in Dwaparayuga to redeem earth from adharma or lack of virtues or sins. First story goes like this. Child Krishna complanined to his mother yeshoda that he being dark in complexion was not as charming as Radha. Yeshoda pacified him by saying that he could apply colors on her face and make her face look ugly. Taking that cue, Krishna started playing with Radha and Gopis by applying colors on their faces. as a part of his pranks  and  since then ,  it became a custom .It indicates childhood innocence of believing  what  was told .Innocence and uprightness as opposed to being  deceptive or crocked   are to be  cultivated by all . It is a path to truth. As one grows up, this sterling quality gets lost or lie dormant in man,. Thus in the play of color, people recreate the Rasaleela or play of Krishna with Gopikas in Brindavan .
The ritual of lighting bonfire during Holi is also linked to the story of Krishna’s killing of ogress Putana. It is assumed that Ogress Putana is burnt to death .The story goes like this. Kamsa, Krishna’s maternal uncle, knowing that his nephew would kill him for his atrocious rule tried to kill Krishna   right from when he was an infant. Ogress Puthana had mysterious poison. At Kamas’s instance, Puthana went to Ambadi, watched the baby Krishna happily swinging in the cradle. She took Krishna in her arms, giving impression on the onlookers   as fondling the child and started feeding him with her poised breast milk to kill him. Krishna having divine power, not only was immune to poison, but could also suck her blood till she died.  This incident is commemorated .It depicts victory of divine forces over devilish ones or triumph of virtues over vices. It conveys that God’s grace which comes out of lofty character shields us from all calamities and misfortunes.
There is another story connected with ogress Dhundhi by name who was supposed to trouble children. Gods found out a plan to rid her of the earth. She would be destroyed, if a team of boys went crazy and nag her . There was a practice that the boys in the neighborhood would team up , light born fire  imagining that she  had been kept inside and go round the fire by singing the songs in humorous vein,  believing that she would flee away  . This represents fighting against the evils collectively and or with firm determination. The practice also urges to develop team spirit or collective action in facing problems.

In South India, people follow the tradition of  propitiating or worshipping  Lord Kamadeva or also known as Manmatha , the God of love in ancient mythology , who can instill love in people . It is called ‘Kamadhahanam or burning Kamadeva to death ‘. The legend goes like this.  Daksha’s daughter Dakshayini was married to Siva. Daksha was hurt when his son –in-law Siva did not  pay due respect to him, by prostrating before him, when all other kings and celestial beings prostrated before him. To avenge his feelings against Siva, he did not invite Siva and Dakshayini when he   conducted a yagna. When Dakshayini attended the function unininvited  against the advice of her lord,  Daksha  insulted her by ignoring her . She became furious and immolated herself by jumping in the fire .  When Shiva heard about the incident, he was in great sorrow. He abandoned all wordly affairs and began strenuous penance. As Siva stopped attending his wordly duties, the affairs of the earth were suffering. Gods decided that Siva should be woken up from his penance and he should be drawn to the life of householder. Parvati was  serving him  out of real love to marry him. Devas with the help of Kamadeva hatched a plan. Kamadeva or God of love could make any one under the influence of amorous love. He knew that if he woke up Siva,  he was sure to  destroy him . In spite of this knowledge, Kamadeva volunteered to distract his penance, for the good of the people and earth, they live in . It was a case of self-sacrifice. He shot his flowery arrow at Siva . Siva woke up and saw beautiful Pavathi  by his side. He fell in love with her and accepted her as his consort. At the same time, Siva saw Kamadeva as responsible for distracting his meditation. He became angry and burnt Kamadeva by opening his third eye , situated on his forehead , which is a source of tremendous power .This incident is referred  to as ‘Kamadhahanam’ meaning burning of amorous love .People  believe burning of Kamadeva in the bornfire.It implies burning of carnal desires. The message for mortals is that they should burn their sensuous desires or at least not allow them to overwhelm them, if allowed to have their sway, would result in self-destruction. God Kamadeva is worshipped for his spirit of self-sacrifice. He gave up his life for the sake of people. He remained as role model for others.

Except propitiating Lord Krishna and Kamadeva in certain parts of our country, divine worship is not a part of Holi celebration. Sweets are distributed among relatives and friends and feast is arranged   on those two days, as done   during any other festive occasions .

In ancient days, lighting bonfire was limited. Today with increase in population large quantity of wood   is used for bonfire, which results in cutting down large number of trees leading to deforestation .It also pollutes the atmosphere. Use of wood should be restricted. It should be done only symbolically. Instead of burning large pile of wood, a wick can be lighted as a symbol. It will help to save the trees and in turn precious forests, of which the life of living beings, including man depends. Similar is the case with colors used. Traditionally, colors only from herbs having medicinal value were used to make color powders and only those were applied and or sprayed on each other. It was welcome and it protected against spread of certain viral and other diseases. In contrast, today because of commercialization, the colored powders are mostly prepared from synthetic dyes, which are very harmful to human health . For example , Leadoxide is used for black color , which causes kidney failure .Mercuy sulphate is used for red color which causes cancer . Aluminum bromide is used for silver cover which causes cancer. Thus all the synthetic colors which are available in the market   cause some health hazard or other. Hence, use of synthetic colors should be avoided. In fact there should be law banning the use of synthetic colors. Apart from affecting human health directly through contact, they pollute air, water and soil. so we should practice only eco-friendly practices in celebrating Holi festival . We should maintain the piety and spiritual fervor of the festival .only natural or herbal colors should be used during holy.  For instance , turmeric which has immense therapeutic properties  may be mused for getting yellow color ,Beat root can be used for getting pink color,Hennamehandi can be used for for orange –red color, pomegranate peals may be used for yellow color and so on. There are herbs , shrubs, leaves, roots, flowers and fruits which  can be used to get  any conceivable colors, all of which will have some medicinal properties  .We should try new vegetable  sources. We have a rich tradition of Ayurveda, a branch of medicine, which is upaveda of Rig-Veda, which deals with innumerable herbal materials   which have both health benefits and properties of color.

In conclusion, it may be stated that we should celebrate the very important festival Holi in a deserving manner and in its true spirit and in a holy way and not in an unholy way. Holi is an occasion to introspect and chasten our qualities of conduct and behavior.Our actions should be directed by our rationality and social responsibility and without undermining the divine spirit of the festival.

A very happy Holy to all  the Readers of this Article…………………………..


(santhasree2000@yahoo.com)
Holy festival – the true spirit ,with which it is to be celebrated.- Dr.A.Sreekumar Menon
മലയാളത്തില്‍ ടൈപ്പ് ചെയ്യാന്‍ ഇവിടെ ക്ലിക്ക് ചെയ്യുക