Holi: Values and traditions

Chandra Kant Jat, Indian Students Association

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Holi, better known as the festival of colors, one of the main festivals of India is celebrated on the full moon (Purnima) of the last month of the Indian calendar, named Phalgun. It usually occurs in March.

As we all know, India is also called the land of festivals. A natural question might be, “Why is it so? Why do Indians have so many festivals and how they impact the Indian value system?” So let’s understand these in the context of The Holi.

It is a two-day festival and the colors are celebrated on the second day, which is known as phag or dhulandi. Then what happens on the first day? Where does the name Holi come from? Here is the main story and the essence of the festival.

Though there are multiple legends associated with the festival and all are recorded in respective literature, the most popular one is that of “Holika, Prahlad, and Hiranyashyap.”

Hiranyashyap was a king who declared himself as god and passed the order that everyone should worship no god other than him. Those who disobeyed would be executed. But his own son named “Prahlad” was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and he refused to follow the king’s order.

After many failed arguments and death threats, he finally passed the order to kill his son. But all his attempts to do so failed. It is said that every time Lord Vishnu saved him.

Finally, Hiranyashyap and his sister Holika came up with a master plan. Holika had a cloak which made her immune to fire. Prahlad was forced to sit in the pyre with Holika who had the cloak.
But, when the pyre was lit, the cloak flew and covered Prahlad. Thus Prahlad was saved and Holika was burnt by the fire.

After this Lord Vishnu incarnated as “Narasimha” having the form of half-man and half-lion and killed Hiranyashyap.

In the memory of this incident, a pyre is burned every year and the festival is called Holi.

It signifies the victory of freedom over suppression and this is what India celebrates. This idea is the basis of Indian pluralism.

Everyone is free to worship the form of their choice or even formless. Though ‘Brahman’ or God is one, everybody can have different or multiple paths of finding it. As encoded in “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti”, loosely translated as ‘truth is one but manifests differently’.

Because of these fundamentals, so many religious sects coexist in India. Thus the Indian psyche accepts and celebrates different ways of looking at the ultimate truth.

But whenever there is a rise of exclusivism which says only my path is correct and everyone else must follow, there will be resistance.

As evident from the legend of Holi, it is an act of evil to suppress freedom and everyone should resist it like Prahlad.

There are many other heroes such as Shivaji Maharaj, Guru Teg Bahadur, Guru Gobind Singh and Gokula Singh, who sacrificed their lives to save this pluralism.

Indian philosophy says that if the evil grows all-powerful, then God will incarnate to destroy the evil, save the good and establish Dharma, as conveyed by the following verse from the Bhagwat Gita: “Paritranaya sadhunam, vinasaya ca duskrtam Dharma-samsthapanarthaya, sambhavami yuge yuge.”

Now comes the second day of the celebration. When there is no evil, one should live a colorful life. The colors signify joy and happiness of life.

Here again, we can observe the diversity of India. Each region has its own way of celebrating it. The Brij region is known for Lathmar Holi. The Shekhawati, Hadoti and Marwar regions of Rajasthan celebrate Holi with folk songs called Dhamal.

Whereas Harayana’s popular Holi form is Kodamar Holi. In Uttarakhand there two types Holi, Khadi (standing) Holi and Baithi (sitting) Holi. Around the same time, people in the Maharashtra region celebrate Gudhii Paadva festival whereas Andhra and Karnataka celebrate Ugadi and Yugadi festivals respectively.

Bihu in Assam, Pohela Boishak in Bengal and Baisakhi in Punjab are also celebrated during this time. Since this is the season spring colors are vivid and all people unify themselves with nature playing colors.

It is also said that even before the legend of Holika people celebrated this coming of spring with Basant Utsav (spring festival) and as time passed, many legends formed. A glimpse of these celebrations can be found in the following pics.

This year, Michigan Tech will be celebrating Holi in the MUB Commons this Sunday, April 14 from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets are available from April 9 through 13 and can be purchased from the MUB promotion table or the SDC ticket office. There is a discount if your purchase your tickets early, so don’t wait!

Early bird tickets are $8 and general admission is $15 while student tickets are $10.

*Note: This article ran April 11