What is Holika Dahan, the bonfire ritual before Holi?
Holika Dahan falls on the day before Holi or the festival of colours celebrated by Hindus across the world. Legend says that the demon Holika tried to kill her nephew Prahlad by sitting with him on a pyre. Instead, she perished herself with her end marking the victory of good over evil
It is that time of the year when people apply gulal (coloured powder) to each other, dance, savour delicious gujiyas and drink bhang with their loved ones. Hindus across the world are geared up to usher in the festival of colours.
This year, the festivities will commence on Tuesday (7 March) with Holika Dahan. The next day, people will celebrate Holi, also called Badi or Rangwali Holi.
What is Holika Dahan and why do Hindus celebrate Holi? Let’s take a closer look.
Holika Dahan, also known as Holika Deepak or Chhoti Holi, falls a day before Holi every year.
People collect wood to make a bonfire that is lit on the eve of Badi Holi. This wood, covered with thread, is burnt on Holika Dahan.
Roasting grains, popcorn, coconut and chickpeas are thrown into this bonfire.
The samagri offered also includes cow dung, flowers, roli (vermilion), jaggery, turmeric, moong, batashe, gulal, coconut, as per a Hindustan Times report.
The burning of this Holika pyre signifies the victory of good over evil.
The legend behind Holika Dahan
Like most festivals, many legends are also connected with Holi. As the story goes, there was a king called Hiranyakashipu whose special powers made him nearly invincible.
The demon king was blessed with the boon that he could neither be killed by a man nor an animal.
Hiranyakashipu forced his subjects to worship him as a god and punished anyone who disobeyed him. Hiranyakashipu’s son, Prahlad, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu, who did not heed his father’s demand.
Enraged by his son’s disobedience, the king asked his sister demoness Holika or Simhika to kill Prahlad.
Holika had a special cloak that would shield her from fire. She decided to sit on a pyre with Prahlad to kill him. However, Prahlad prayed to the Hindu deity Vishnu to save him. As the blaze surrounded the two, the flame-shielding cloth flew from Holika and covered Prahlad.
Holika perished in the fire, while her nephew was saved.
Later, Vishnu took the avatar of Narasimha – half man and half lion – to kill Hiranyakashipu.
And thus, Holika Dahan is celebrated a day before Holi to mark the end of evil.
However, some on Twitter have compared the burning of Holika to the inhuman Sati practice that was followed in some Hindu communities where widows jumped into the funeral pyre of their husbands.
होली को जलाना स्त्री विरोधी त्यौहार है।
हम यदि प्रगतिशील समाज का अंग हैं। तो इसका विरोध करना चाहिए
जब सती प्रथा बंद हो सकती है तो होलिका दहन भी बंद होना चाहिए।यह समस्त स्त्री जाति का अपमान है।जो किसी भी समाज के लिये घातक है। pic.twitter.com/m2jckBiTUc
— Nirdesh Singh (@didinirdeshsing) March 4, 2023
In a video shared on the microblogging site, a woman says the tradition of lighting a live woman on fire and celebrating it is not right in a cultured society and it sends a wrong message.
A section of users has disagreed with the comparison and called it “wrong”.
ALSO READ: Holi week weather forecast: Warmth in North and East, heatwave in South, rains in Central India
The other legend associated with Holi
This legend pertains to Lord Krishna and Radha. It is believed when Krishna was a baby, he developed blue skin after drinking the poisoned breast milk of the demoness Putana.
Later, becoming conscious of his skin colour, Krishna thought he would be rejected by Radha and other girls.
As per India Today, his mother then asked him to go to Radha and smear her face with the colour he wanted.
This became a tradition and people started putting colours to each other on Holi in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh.
How is Holi celebrated?
People throw water balloons filled with colours and smear gulal or abir on each other on Holi.
The general atmosphere of merriment takes over as people party and observe the festival with their loved ones with dance and good food.
After playing with colours, people wash up and eat to their heart’s content. Later in the day, they go and meet relatives or friends to greet them.
The festival of colours also marks the end of winter and heralds the arrival of spring.
The customs of ringing in the festival are different across India.
The famous Lathmar Holi is celebrated in Barsana, a town near Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura where women playfully beat men with sticks, who use shields to protect themselves.
In Uttar Pradesh’s Vrindavan, people play Holi with flowers, which is why it is called Phoolon ki Holi.
West Bengal marks Holi as Basanta Utsav or the spring festival.
Maharashtra has the tradition of Matki Phod where people form a human pyramid to break the pot, suspended from a height, filled with buttermilk.
Amid the doom and gloom, here’s hoping this year’s festival will be a harbinger of jolly and colours in everyone’s lives.
With inputs from agencies
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