Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, offers something for everyone. Much older than Christianity or Islam, Hindu mythology is rich with the common themes of religion and life that remain ever-present in the background of our daily existence. Holi means something different in different parts of the world.
Joseph Campbell coined the term "monomyth" to demonstrate the common theme in religions of the world. The stories of the New Testament, the Quran, the Torah and the Bhagavad Gita follow the common theme Campbell identified in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man." Because Hindus are polytheists their heroes easily have a thousand faces, even if their tales are monomyths.
Most credit the story of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap for the celebration of Holi. King Hiranyakshyap was a demon King, granted powers of invincibility from man, beast and natural disaster. He ordered all his people to warship him as a god. His own son Prahlad disobeyed and continued to worship Vishnu (the god typically associated with peace and preservation). Hiranyakshyap ordered his sister, Holika (hence the name Holi), to take Prahlad into a blazing fire so he would be killed for his impudence. Holika was supposed to be immune to fire, but she burned while Prahlad remained unharmed. Some also celebrate the story of Krishna and Radha. Krishna is one of the incarnations of Vishnu and Radha is Krishna's true love. Holi commemorates a playful trick Krishna plays on his beloved and other maidens, covering them in color. Others still, believe it celebrates the death of Ogress Pootana, who tried to kill baby Krishna with poison. In the south of India, some celebrate the tale of Lord Shiva (the destroyer god) and Kaamadeva. Kaamadeva risked his life and shot a love arrow at Lord Shiva, disturbing his meditation and saving the world from destruction. Holi also heralds the spring.
Whichever myth enthusiasts choose to observe, Holi commemorates our favorite kinds of stories. Stories of salvation of the faithful, the conquest of good over evil, transformation from old to new, the short life of vanity poised against the longevity of virtue and love's ultimate unification after separation.
According to the CIA World Factbook, 13.78% of the world's population is Hindu. Not only Hindu's celebrate Holi. The festivities are filled with such exuberance that many people from different cultures partake. In fact, the Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India (SCFI) recommends, "'When it's time for Holi, please don't hold yourself back and enjoy the festival to the hilt by participating with full enthusiasm in every small tradition related to the festival."
The festival begins with a bonfire in the evening, in preparation for the following day. The main day of celebration involves a rainbow attack. Throughout the streets, people throw brightly colored powders and liquids at each other. All the images of the Holi festivities illustrate joy in motion and a kaleidoscope of vivid colors. Which begs the question, for those who have ever played with a paint palette, how do the colors not all blend to form brown? Another curiosity is whether or not these powders are safe for the skin, eyes, lungs and GI tract.
Holi Health Concerns, Brahma!
It turns out not all powders and liquids are safe for Holi play. SCFI, among many other sources of Holi information, specifically advocate for a natural and eco friendly Holi. SCFI warns against the chemicals used in synthetic liquids and powders. Synthetic culprits include lead, copper sulfate, aluminum, mercury, asbestos and even glass. These can be quite damaging, particularly to children and infants. Natural powders are made of flour, dried leaves and flowers and turmeric.
Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan
(Divine Light Awakening Mission), an NGO's whose purpose is to forward social and spiritual initiatives, also helps keep Holi natural. Through their Prisoners' Reformation & Rehabilitation Program
, named Antarkranti, female prisoners make natural powders while earning money for their own care.
Joseph Campbell said, "I don't believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive." Holi certainly seems like an opportunity to experience being alive.
What can I do?
Just for today' PLAY! You may look foolish; people may judge you. Who cares, that is happening anyway, you may as well enjoy your life. Plus, you never know who you may inadvertently make smile, laugh or join in!
Just for today, count how many times you see your favorite color and notice where you see it. How wonderful is it that your favorite color exists and how fortunate are you to be able to enjoy it?
Support a healthy Holi, women and the environment through Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan