Beliefs and practices
According to Hindu mythology, there was a king named Hiranyakashipu whose desire was to be seen as a great man. To fulfill his desire he did the required Tapas (penance) and was granted a boon by Brahma.
Once Brahma was pleased by devotion of Hiranyakashyapu, he granted the king wishes that the king will not be killed by human being or an animal, he will not die either in his home or outside the home, he will not die in the day or at night, he will not die either by astra or shastra, and that he will not die either on land or in the sea or in the air. As this wish was granted, it was completely impossible to kill Hiranyakashyapu by any means and this made him invincible. Hiranyakashyapu ordered people in his kingdom to worship him as a God. Everyone obeyed with the exception of his son Prahlad. Prahlad refused to see his father as a god and stayed devoted to Vishnu.
This made Hiranyakashipu very angry and he made various attempts to kill Prahlad. During a particular attempt on Prahlad's life, King Hiranyakashyapu called upon his sister Holika for help. Holika had a special gift that prevented her from being harmed by fire. Hiranyakashyapu asked her to sit on a bonfire with Prahlad on her lap in the hope that this would kill Prahlad. But as Prahlad chanted Vishnu's name, Holika was burnt to her death and Prahlad was spared.
Origin of Holika Dahan
For many traditions in Hinduism, Holi celebrates the death of Holika in order to save Prahlad and we see where Holi gets its name. The night before Holi pyres are burnt in North India in keeping with this tradition. It should also be noted that in some parts of India the day is actually called Holika. There are other activities associated with the story of Prahlad, but the burning of Holika is the one that we can most directly associate with Holi. Fire burnt on the eve of Holi symbolizes the burning of Holika. The story as a whole is testament to the power of devotion (bhakta) over the evil represented by King Hiranyakashyapu, as Prahlad never lost his faith.
The burning of Holika is the most common mythological explanation for the celebration of Holi. In different parts of India varying reasons are given for Holika's death. Among those are:
- Vishnu stepped in and hence Holika burnt.
- Holika was given the power by Brahma on the understanding that it can never be used to bring harm to anyone,
- Holika was a good person and it was the clothes that she wore that gave her the power and knowing that what was happening was wrong, she gave them to Prahlad and hence died herself.
- Holika wore a shawl that would protect her from fire. So when she was asked to sit in the fire with Prahlad she put on the shawl and sat Prahlad down in her lap. When the fire was lit Prahlad began praying to Lord Vishnu. So Lord Vishnu summoned a gust of wind to blow the shawl off of Holika and on to Prahlad, saving him from the flames of the bonfire and burning Holika to her death.
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