The Face of Holi in the Kingdom of VishwanandaH O L I - The Festival Story
of Hiranyakashapu and Prahlad
There was once a demon king by the name of Hiranyakashyapu who won over the kingdom of Earth. He was so egoistic that he commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. But to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana and refused to worship his father, Hiranyakashyapu.
Finally, Hiranyakashyapu asked Prahlad's sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. For, Hiranyakashyapu knew that Holika had a boon, whereby, she could enter the fire unscathed. Treacherously, Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap and she herself took her seat in a blazing fire. The story has it that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life. Holika was not aware that the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone. Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Lord Naarayana all this while, came out unharmed, as the lord blessed him for his extreme devotion.
Thus, Holi derives its name from Holika, and, is celebrated as a festival of victory of good over evil. Holi is also celebrated as the triumph of a devotee. As the story depicts that anybody, howsoever strong, cannot harm a true devotee. And, those who dare torture a true devotee of God shall be reduced to ashes. Celebration of the story even today, is honored with people enacting the scene of 'Holika's burning to ashes' every year to mark the victory of good over evil. In several states of India, specially in the north, effigies of Holika are burnt in the huge bonfires. There is even a practice of hurling cow dung into the fire and shouting 'Holi-hai! Holi-hai!'.
The tradition of burning 'Holika' is religiously followed in Gujarat and Orissa also. Here, people render their gratitude to Agni, the god of fire by offering gram and stalks from the harvest with all humility. Further, on the last day of Holi, people take a little fire from the bonfire to their homes. It is believed that by following this custom their homes will be rendered pure and their bodies will be free from disease. At several places there is also a tradition of cleaning homes, removing all dirty articles from around the house and burning them. Disease-breeding bacteria are thereby destroyed and the sanitary condition of the locality is improved.