The legend of Holika Dahan

Next week we will be celebrating Holi, the last festival as per the Vedic calendar and the second festival per the English (Gregorian) calendar. We have been celebrating Holi since time immemorial but we hardly try to find the tale behind this festival. In this post, we will learn about the legend associated with this festival and how we should celebrate it.

The legend that goes behind ‘Holika Dahan’ is that of King Hiranyakashyapu and his son Pralhad. King Hiranyakashyapu was granted a boon for his severe penance. The boon was that he could be killed neither by any Astr nor by any Shastr, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, and neither by any human nor by any animal. This boon made him as good as immortal. With this boon, he considered himself invincible and ordered that only he should be worshipped as God in his kingdom. He started a reign of terror and punished and killed anyone who did not accept his orders.

However, his son Pralhad disagreed with him and refused to worship him as a god. He continued worshipping Lord Vishnu. This made Hiranyakashyapu furious. He tried various enchantments and other measures to influence Pralhad against Lord Vishnu but failed in all his attempts. Pralhad fearlessly continued his worship to Lord Vishnu. When the king learnt that Pralhad will remain unaffected by any of the attempts and will not worship Hiranyakashyapu as a god but continue his devotion to Lord Vishnu, he became so angry and upset that he decided to kill Pralhad. 

As his last hope, Hiranyakashyapu called his demoness sister, Holika for help, who was also gifted with a boon that made her immune from fire. The king ordered to prepare a bonfire and asked Holika to sit with his son Pralhad in her lap so that he will be burnt to ashes. But, Holika was unaware that her boon would work only if she was alone in the fire. Thus, Pralhad, who kept chanting the name of Lord Vishnu, remained unharmed and Holika was charred to death.

Thus, as a remark of this incident, Holika Dahan became prevalent. Holika Dahan is performed after sunset on the Poornima (full moon) of Shulka paksha in the month of Falgun. People gather wood sticks, cow dung cakes, dry grass, etc and two effigies, one of Holika and one of Pralhad are placed in the fire. The effigy of Holika is made from any flammable substances while the effigy of Pralhad is made from substances that cannot be burnt. In Maharashtra, there is a custom of making Puranpolis as naivedya (an offering to God). There is a practice where the children play timki (a percussion instrument) and the elderly shout obscenities. Holika Dahan is a custom of dispelling the evil and removing the feeling of enmity from within.

Dhulvad is celebrated the next day. When the fire cools down, people play with the remaining ashes. It is believed that the applying of the rashes significantly decreases the amount of sweat rash caused in summers. But, in present times the ashes are replaced by chemical or organic colours.


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