Holi: In Legend and Pictures

Holi, also known as The Festival of Colors, is an ancient Hindu holiday that celebrates the victory of good over evil and the coming of Spring. It is marked by general merrymaking, especially the splashing of color all over anyone who comes close! One of the primary legends behind the holiday involves an evil king named Hiranyakashipu:

Hiranyakashyap considered himself ruler of the Universe, and higher than all the gods. Prahalad was the king’s son. His father hated him because Prahalad was a faithful devotee of the god Vishnu.

One day the king asked him “Who is the greatest, God or I?”

“God is,” said the son, “you are only a king.”

The king was furious and decided to murder his son. But the king’s attempts at murder didn’t work too well. Prahalad survived being thrown over a cliff, being trampled by elephants, bitten by snakes, and attacked by soldiers. So the king asked his sister, Holika, to kill the boy.

Holika seized Prahalad and sat in the middle of a fire with the boy on her lap. Holika had been given a magic power by the gods that made her immune to fire, so she thought this was a pretty good plan, and Prahalad would burn to death while she remained cool.

But it’s never wise to take gods’ gifts for granted! Because Holika was using her gift to do something evil, her power vanished and she was burned to ashes. Prahalad stayed true to his God, Vishnu, and sat praying in the lap of his demon aunt. Vishnu protected him, and Prahalad survived.

Shortly afterwards, Vishnu killed King Hiranyakashyap and Prahad ruled as a wise king in his father’s place.(1)

Another key story behind the Holi festivities involves Krishna, one of the incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu:

The story goes that as a child, Krishna was extremely jealous of Radha’s fair complexion since he himself was very dark.

One day, Krishna complained to his mother Yashoda about the injustice of nature which made Radha so fair and he so dark. To pacify the crying young Krishna, the doting mother asked him to go and colour Radha’s face in whichever colour he wanted.

In a mischievous mood, naughty Krishna heeded the advice of mother Yashoda and applied colour on her beloved Radha’s face; Making her one like himself. (2)

Because of these two stories, Holi is an extremely festive holiday with a large bonfire occurring the night before and the widespread use of colored powder and water throughout the day. As people dance, sing, and throw color, you’ll often see all distinctions of caste, gender, age, and class disappear. It is a holiday that celebrates life and is much loved by many. Check out the video below to see why!


Photo by Alessandro Baffa