Description: Phagwah Festivals of Colors
Holi is probably the least religious of Hindu holidays. During Holi, Hindus attend a public bonfire, spray friends and family with colored powders and water, the morning is mostly played with water and mud and can get a bit crazy, but after noon everyone will take a bath and put on clean fresh clothes and play with “Abeer” – powered dye mixed with water of various colors but mostly red. And “Abrak” a soft power of a variety of colors including talcum or baby power.
Holi or Phagwah is also associated with the Puranic story of Holika, the sister of demon-king Hiranyakashipu. Sweetmeats are prepared and and various vegetarian delicacies are cooked on this day. Weeks before a huge Holika is built and on the night before Phagwah it is set ablaze to commemorate the story of Maharaja Prahalad.
Once two brothers Jaya and Vijaya were the gatekeepers of the abode of Lord Vishnu, one day a very exalted sage came with an entourage to visit Lord Vishnu but did not have an appointment to see the Lord. The brothers would not let them in and embarrassed the sage cursed the brothers that they will be borned as demons in the next three births, thinking it was unfair the brothers complained to Lord Vishnu who out of respect for the exalted sage din not reverse the curse but instead told the brothers that they will born as demons but the Lord himself will come to take their life, which ensures a tremendous amount of merits.
In one birth the brothers came as Hirynayaksha and Hiranyakasipu, one of them – Hirnayaksha attempted to sink the earth into the ocean and Lord Vishnu taking the form of a boar destroyed him. Hiranyakasipu became furious and engaged a campaign against Lord Vishnu to everyone that will listen, he then engaged into a deep penance prompting Lord Bramha to appear and ask him what are his desires for such deep penance. Hiranyakasipu asked that he should never die, Bramha explained that everything that is born must die. Hiranyakasipu then said alright then
I must not meet death from any entities created by you.
I must not die within or outside of any residence.
I must not die during the daytime nor the nighttime.
I must not die on the ground or in the sky.
Not by any weapon, human being or animal.
Not by any entity living or non-living, demi-god or demon and finally
May not have any rival and to be the sole lordship over all living entities and presiding deities and to have all mystic powers and these powers cannot be lost by time.
Having heard all this Bramha said that those desires are granted. Having been duly satisfied that he is now invincible Hiranyakasipu ceased penance and went back to reclaim his Kingdom.
In the meantime when Hiranyakasipu was in penance the demi-gods ceased this opportunity to strike at the disorganized followers of Hiranyakasipu. Indra captured the wife of Hiranyakasipu and was carrying her off to kill her since the son of Hiranyakasipu was in her womb and the demi-gods feared having another tormentor being born. Narad Muni stopped him and entreated him to spare this innocent woman and as a trade off to let her stay with him in his ashram until the child is born which was agreed by Indra. While at the ashram the child (Later known as Prahalad) absorbed all the teachings and rituals that was occurring there even while he was in his mother’s womb.
With his new found powers Hiranyakasipu took his wife and son back and proclaimed as god and forbade anyone to mention the name of Vishnu the true god. While in school Prahalad would use any spare time to recite the glories of Lord Vishnu the one he heard whilst in his mothers womb in the ashram, so endearing are the stories that the other kids would beg him to tell it to them. Everytime Hiranyakasipu would ask Prahalad who is Supreme God he would reply that it is Lord Vishnu. Frustrated Hiranyakasipu tried to kill his son trying all means possible.
One such attempt was using his demon sister Holika who is immune to fire to take Prahalad into a great bonfire and sit with him. This failed by the intervention of Lord Vishnu and Holika was burned to ashes after asking Prahalad for forgiveness and Prahalad escaped unscathed, thus this event is a basis for the celebration of “HOLI”ka or Phagwah. So overjoyed were the oppressed people that they started to take the ashes and smear it on each other. Hiranyakasipu for his part was finally killed by Lord Vishnu in the incarnation as Narsingh the half man half beast not created by Lord Bramha , in the threshold at evening time on the porch by the nails of Narsingh who is neither man nor beast fully and who is half living and half stone and is neither a demi-god nor a demon.
Another story of Phagwah relates of how the in Vrindavan Radha her fellow Gopis (Milkmaids) were always trying to get back at Lord Krishna and his friends for playing pranks at them. They would fling cow dung and mud at the boys thus this aspect can be seen as a battle between male and female. Also Krishna used to ask his mother Yasoda as to why Radha is so fair and he is so dark and his mother use to tell him to smear colors on Radha’s face and see how her complexion will change this is another aspect of Phagwah.