First there is Fire: the god of priests and priest of gods. Then colours abound, as if each and every part of Mother Nature has awakened and left its imprint upon our faces. Spring has arrived. It is time for Holi!
It has been a few days now. The birds in my neighbourhood just won’t stop singing. Their songs last longer and longer each day. They too sense the arrival of spring. Or perhaps, they yearn for the million colours of India. I do too, now and then, especially around Holi.
It was always the “fun” festival, at least in my family. A few days before Holi, we would go to the flower market. We would purchase several sacks of colourful flowers. We would soak those flowers in water to obtain naturally coloured water. The evening before Holi (the day we used to call choti holi or small holi), there would be a bonfire in the street. The priest would tell us about the legend of Holika, the sister of the demon Hiranyakashipu. We would sing and dance around the bonfire, barely listening to his words. The next morning, it was time to fill balloons and water pistols with the coloured water we’d prepared. It was time to paint the town red, green, blue and orange, and a thousand colours in between.
I won’t bore you with details of just how we used to chase one another in our quest of plastering our faces with those colours! After all, we were talking about Holi, Holika and Hiranyakashipu…
Once upon a time, there was a great demon king by the name of Hiranyakashipu. He had a boon that he could be killed neither by man nor animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, not on land or water or air, neither by projectile nor handheld weapons, neither at day nor at night. Almost immortal, he grew powerful and arrogant, and demanded that he be worshiped as God.
His son, Prahlada, disagreed. A devotee of Vishnu, he continued praying to his beloved deity despite the multiple and torturous punishments inflicted upon him by his father and aunt. One day, his aunt, Holika, tricked him into sitting upon her lap in a pyre. She had covered herself with a magical cloak that made her immune to the effects of fire. And yet, as they sat upon the pyre and the fire roared, a mysterious wind blew, tore off the cloth from Holika’s back, and covered Prahlada with it. Holika (and evil) was consumed. And Prahlada (virtue) remained unscratched. Vishnu took the form of Narasimha – half man and half lion – and at dusk (neither night nor day), took Hiranyakashipu at a doorstep (neither indoor nor outdoors), placed him upon his lap (neither on land, air nor water), and eviscerated him with his claws (which were neither handheld nor projectile weapons).
The subjects of the demon king celebrated this victory of virtue over evil with a million colours. And to this day, Holi remains the festival to end and rid ourselves of our past errors (burn them in the proverbial fire), to end conflicts by meeting both our friends and those with whom we were not so friendly, to forgive and forget, and start anew.
I doubt Ms Annie Hidalgo would appreciate us lighting bonfires and painting the streets of Paris with 1001 colours… but in the fire within, let’s burn regrets and conflicts on this day of Holi. Let’s start anew on a path where there are neither debts nor fights. Let’s colour the month of March with the saffron of Ahimsa.
This year (2020), the choti holi falls upon the 9th of March and 10th of March is when we paint the town red!
Crédit photo @somephotographer via Twenty20