FESTIVALS : The Holika Dahan tradition

The evening before Holi, a bonfire or Holika is burnt to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. An effigy of Holika made with highly combustible items alongwith an effigy of Prahlad made with non-combustible materialsis kept on the collected logs.

If the colors of Holi are associated with Lord Krishna and his Raas with Radha and the milkmaids, the story of Holika Dahan is always linked to Prahlad and his aunt, Holika.

Story of Holika Dahan

When Lord Vishnu killed his brother Hiranyaksha, the demon Hiranyakashyap was enraged and declared that he would undertake severe penance and then kill all the gods. While he retired to the forest for penance, Lord Indra took this opportunity to wage war against the demons, in which he was victorious. Among the prisoners was Hiranyakashyap’spregnant wife. Rishi Narad took pity on her and requested Indra to leave her in his care. At his Ashram, as Narad recited the Holy Scriptures, and the name of Lord Vishnu, the unborn child of Hiranyakashyap absorbed all from his mother’s womb.

Later Hiranyakashyap managed to appease Brahma and got a boon that said he couldn’t be killed b y a human or an animal; not with any weapon; not in the day and not at night; neither indoors, nor outdoors; not on the earth and not in the sky. Empowered by the boon, the demon king wreaked havoc on the gods and forced them out of their homes. He declared it an offence punishable by death to worship the Gods.

However, his son, Prahlad had only heard the praises of Vishnu when he was yet unborn. He continued to worship the Protector and this drove Hiranyakashyap mad with fury. When his son refused to change stand, he tries to get him trampled by elephants and even thrown into a pit of snakes. When Prahlad emerged unscathed, Hiranyakashyap turned to his sister Holika who had a boon that she would not get burned by fire. But when Holika sat on the fire with Prahlad, it was she who got burnt instead. Lord Vishnu then came out of the fire in his Narsimha Avatar and put an end to Hiranyakashyap and his evil ways.

Why Holika Dahan?

Every year, the evening before Holi, a bonfire or Holika is burnt to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. An effigy of Holika made with highly combustible items alongwith an effigy of Prahlad made with non-combustible materialsis kept on the collected logs. People take rounds before the heap of logs and perform puja with haldi, roli, coconut, jau and uppals or cow dung cakes. The Holika is then set alight to the sound of the Rakshogna mantras from the Rig Veda.

The next morning the ashes from the bonfire are applied to the forehead as a mark of Prasad, and any leftover coconuts are also consumed before people start playing with colors.

Read more about Braj ki Holi or Festival of India.