Holi is one of the most festive, joyous holidays of
the Hindu year. It is celebrated primarily in the
North of India and it falls on the full moon day of
Phalguna (February - March). The festival is marked
by great revelry during which everyone paints each
other with brightly colored powders. Song, dance and
bright red, green, yellow and pink powder are the
hallmarks of the occasion.
The meanings of Holi are numerous. 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 and virility. However, side by side with
the celebration of love and fertility is the message
to exercise control over the emerging passion. In
some parts of India the story is told on Holi of
Kamadeva (God of Love; Cupid), whom Lord Shiva
burned to ashes as he tried to seduce Him out of His
meditation. The message is: celebrate love, but
don’t get carried away. Thus, Holi is a celebration
of divinity and discipline over passion.
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. The story – in a simple, condensed way –
says that Prahlaad was a young, beautiful, pure,
divine devotee of God. However, Prahlaad’s father
was a powerful king who believed that everyone
should worship him. At Prahlaad’s refusal to do so,
due to his singleminded love of God, his father
decided to have him killed. Prahlaad’s aunt (his
father’s sister), Holika, had been given a special
shawl as a boon from God for various austerities she
had performed. When she wore this shawl, she could
not be burned by fire. So, Prahlaad’s father and his
sister devised a plan in which she would wear her
shawl and hold Prahlaad tightly in her arms as they
sat in fire. In this way, Prahlaad would be killed,
but she would emerge unscathed.
However, as divine plan works, a strong gust of wind
came and blew the shawl off of her, as well as
carried pure Prahlaad to safety. Holika was burned
in the fire of her own evil.
One of the great obstacles in life to our spiritual
progress is the difference between what we do or say
on the outside and how we really are on the inside.
Holika had performed certain austerities by which
she was entitled to this boon from God. On the
outside, she was “pious.” But, on the inside she was
not pure. Prahlaad, on the other hand, was a simple,
pure, loving devotee of God. This is what saved him.
This inner purity and inner piety are what truly
save us, what truly make our lives divine.
So many of us go to temple, do the rituals, offer
money to the priests, and chant a certain number of
malas. Then, we go out and act in selfish, unpious,
dishonest ways. These may not necessarily take the
form of malicious transgressions. It may simply be
the way we speak to our children or to our loved
ones. It may simply be the way we try to cheat those
with whom we do business. It may be the way we sit
and gossip about others.
All the rituals and puja in the world cannot make up
for a lack of piety, honesty and compassion. The
goal of going to temple is not just to perform
rituals; the goal is to become spiritual. God is
happier with pure, innocent, devoted Prahlaad than
with all the austerities and rituals performed by
his father and aunt.
Thus, on this divine occasion, we should pray to be
filled with the purity and devotion of Prahlaad. We
should commit ourselves to performing our puja,
meditation and japa with focus, dedication and deep
love for God.
One meaning of the word Holi is sacrifice. On Holi
we light so many bonfires to revel in joy and to
burn the effigies of Holika. The meanings of these
bonfires are to burn that which is devilish and
impure, leaving only the purity and divinity after
Holi. However, we must remember not only to partake
in the merry-making of a bonfire. We must remember
to sacrifice that within us which is devilish and
impure. There is some demon-nature in all of us. We
must burn that demon-nature on Holi and emerge as
pure and pious as divine Prahlaad.
The fire of purity and divinity which we light on
Holi must burn continuously in our hearts throughout
the year. We must have an ever-burning bonfire of
impurity, so that we are continuously renewed,
continuously purified and continuously rejuvenated.
On Holi we sing loudly in the Hindi language: “Holi
I, Holi I, Holi I….” However, let us not just chant
this rhyme; rather, let us truly pray to God that on
this day “I” may become holy. Let us pray that “I”
may become pious, pure and devoted as Prahlaad. In
that way our lives and our hearts and our souls will
be forever protected, forever sheltered at His holy
As we chant “Holi I, Holi I, Holi I….” let us also
pray that our “eye” may become holy, that we may be
granted the divine vision by which we behold Him in
all whom we see. Let us pray that through our holy
eye, we never are led toward anger, greed, lust or
LET THIS HOLI BE A TIME WHEN WE CHANGE
NOT ONLY THE COLOR OF OUR FACES,
BUT THE COLOR OF OUR HEARTS.
LET US NOT ONLY “PLAY” HOLI,
BUT LET US BECOME HOLY.
LET THE ONLY COLOR THAT
TRULY PENETRATES OUR BEINGS
BE THE COLOR OF GOD.
FOR, ON THE MORNING AFTER HOLI
THE OTHER COLORS WILL WASH AWAY.
BUT WE MUST LET THE COLOR OF GOD
IN OUR EYES, IN OUR EARS AND IN OUR HEARTS.
articles on the various holidays of the Hindu and