Dear Divine Souls,
Today is the sacred and beautiful day of Holi, a day celebrated across India with great joy, gaiety and festivity. There are many meanings and much significance attached to this day. For some, it is the festival of Springtime, the heralding of warm weather and bidding farewell to the winter. It is also seen as a festival of love, the return of fertility. The Puranas describe Holi as a celebration of virtue over vice. It is a time when we rejoice in the victory of pure, divine Prahlaad over his aunt Holika.
This year, I want to talk about another meaning, one relevant to all of us at this time. If we look at the actual semantic derivation of the word, we see it is made up of Ho and Li. There are two different meanings to this:
First, “Holi” means that which has happened, “Jo hogaya, holi,” that which has passed. So Holi is a time to acknowledge what has happened, what has passed and then to move on. It is the “moving on” holiday. On this day of Holi, we introspect and look back on the past year or many years, to see “kya ho-li” what has passed, what has happened. We see it, witness it, acknowledge it, take the lessons from it and then let it go. The most famous story of Holi is the one associated with the divine devotee Prahlad and his aunt Holika who tried to burn him in the fire. However, rather than burning divine Prahlad, evil Holika was burned in his place. Hence an important symbol of this holiday is to let the badness, the evilness (ours or others) be burned in the symbolic fire so that we can move on.
Too frequently in life we hold onto grudges, anger, pain, jealousies for year after year. We are bound by our own guilt over acts of commission or acts of omission – that which we did and should not have, or that which we should have done and yet failed to do. We become stuck, chained, imprisoned by the deeds of years past – what others have done to us, what we have done to others. Holi is the time to say “Ho-li.” It happened. Yes, it happened. However, today is a new day, a new time, a new year. We let the pains, grudges, angers, habits of the past be burned in the fire of our prayer so that we too may emerge from this day, colored not only with paint and powder, but colored with prayer. We must use this divine holiday as a way to just let it all go. That which has happened, is over. Ho-li. It has happened. And now, today is a new day. We must not carry the chains of the past into the present.
Another meaning of the word Ho-li, is to look at it as two roots, Ho and Li. Ho means, as I mentioned above, that which has happened, already occurred. Li is a form of the verb “lena” (“liya”) or “to take.” What do we take on Holi? We take pledges, sankalps for the future. So, the past has happened (ho) and now we take (li) a pledge for the present and future. A new pledge for a new you. We cannot control the past. We can only control the present and future. That which we plant today will grow into the tree whose fruit we will eat tomorrow. If we are unhappy with the fruit of today, we look back upon the past, accept and acknowledge that we planted the seed of the harvest we are reaping today – sweet or sour – and pledge that we will plant seeds today of love, peace, forgiveness, compassion and unity. So, today on this day, we look at the past, with deep, deep honesty, we let it go with forgiveness, acceptance, and understanding and then we take a pledge for the present and future that we will move forth with newness, new light, new love, new vision of unity and peace.
As we burn the effigy of evil Holika, let us also burn all the grudges, pain and chains of the past. As pure, divine Prahlad emerged unscathed from the ashes, let our true selves – pure, holy, compassionate, loving, peaceful, generous, devoted – also emerge from the celebration.
If, amidst our joyous revelry, we can truly take this deep meaning of Holi into our heart, then purity, divinity, truth and goodness will again – as in the time of Prahlad and Holika – vanquish arrogance, greed, deception, ego and grudges, and we will all be able to move forward into a bright future.
With love and blessings to you all and all your loved ones.
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati