Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The True Spirit of Holi

We in our modern era and our modern cosmopolitan culture are very fast in keeping in pace with the modern culture and the in-things by conveniently ignoring the core spirit of our Indian festivals. Indian festivals have a strong traditional, cultural heritage and are among the most symbolic in expressions and intent. Over the years and decades the core essence is slowly but forgotten. It is for us to rediscover the true symbolism and true meaning in the festival. A closer look and little thought with some bit of media surfing should reveal the significance of Holi in more ways than that meets the eye.
Mythological Significance
  1. Prahalad & Hiranyakshyap - Due to profound devotion of his Son Prahalada, Hiranyakshyap who has been graced by Bramha and hated MahaVishnu; orders extermination of Prahalada in fire. Hiranyakshayap's sister Holika is inturn set ablaze as the devotion in Prahalada protects him from being engulfed in Agni(fire) but Holika pays the price of her price in "Holika Dahaa"
  2. From the Shri Krishna era; Lord Krishna is shown applying colours to Radha and other Gopikas. It also states that Holi is the celebration of death of Ogress Pootana who tried to killing infant Krishna by feeding poisonous milk.
  3. Another legend of Holi which is extremely popular down South is that of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva. As per the legend Kaamadeva sacrifices himself by getting incinerated by Rudradeva's Agninetram to break Siva's Samadhi to protect the world from Tarakasur who in turn was killed by Karthikeya swamy son of Parvathy & Siva.

Cultural Significance

Holi is typically a two day festival which leads to a New year Ugaadi. It symbolises destruction of old habits and adaption of new cleaner and austere habits as one steps into a new year. It lets us symbolically leave behind the past of bad and unpleasant feelings and fill ourselves with brightness and colours of new coming year. It prepares us to enter the new Year in a cleansed, Pure and a rejuvenated state.

On the Poornima night the night before Holi; all the people of the society gather for Holika Dahan. People put into the fire Flattened Dried Cow dung cakes, alond with old clothes and old thrash. Sajjana Sangatyam - Social Well being is the motive behind this Dahan.The symbolism behind this one is destroying old things at home is of destroying all the bad and evil we have picked up in our daily lives till that date. Symbolically with burning of old useless and unwanted things we are destroying the poor shades of our past life to start new one. While burning the discarded things of all others from the society; signifies destruction of all Social Taboos and Social evil in the society, where the society proclaims destruction of all things which are bad. Having completed this ritual of Holika dahan individuals and society alike have set ablaze all the social perils and evils [Kama (Lust), Krodha (Rage), Lobha (Greed), Moha (Attachment) and Ahankar (ego) ]; In the same way Lord Shiva destroyed Kamaa we should also be aiming to eliminate all the lust and desire from ourself and aid in universal brotherhood and social well-being. This when achieved will lead way to peace and prosperity to the entire world which is much required in today's world. One also takes Oath on Agni that one is willing to forget and forgive all the previous animosity against others and oneself and promise to be a better person.

On the Second day everyone gets together to smear colours on each other. Everyone comes out to meet and greet everyone friends and enemies alike and exchange colours. This signifies that one after being purified in the Holika Dahan by stripping ourself of all the evil and bad one is pure and Divine. And a person by socialising and applying colours exchange all the Goodness and purity of the other. The more a person socialises the more the good characters and good spirits one is able to attract and adopt. Colours act as an exchange of key characteristics of goodness and well being each colour signifying one key characteristic. Adapting colours in equivalent to inviting and exchanging more goodness to self and others. In other sense it reinstates and realigns all the brotherhood and friendship to set sail for new heights. As Agarbathi wards off bad odour without loosing its characteristic odour in the same fashion it is believed one is inviting others goodness by keeping off evil from this day. One should aim to find the colours of Divine or the colours of Param Athma the Supreme Spirit during this stage. Usage of natural colours like Pasupu(Haldi), Kumkum, Bilvaku, Vibhuti (Ashes), Chanda (sandal) have there own key attributes and attractive potency to retain and store human characterstic traits.

These purpose adds a very different dimension to the festival in all. And I really hope the true spirit is identified and lives on to live on.

Biological Significance

This festival occurs at the onset of spring. As Holi comes at a time of the year when people have a tendency to feel sleepy and lazy. This is natural for the body to experiences some tardiness due to the change from the cold to the heat in the atmosphere. This period, during which the weather changes, is prone to cause viral fever and cold. Thus, the playful throwing of the coloured powders has a medicinal significance as the coloured powders are made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Ayurveda doctors. Biologists believe the liquid dye or Abeer penetrates the body and enters into the pores. It has the effect of strengthening the ions in the body and adds health and beauty to it. It's also thought that deficiency of a particular colour in our body causes ailment, which can be cured only after supplementing the body with that particular colour.

Another scientific reason for celebrating the Holi, pertains to the tradition of Holika Dahan. The mutation period of winter and spring, induces the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere as well as in the body. When Holika is burnt, temperature rises to about 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Following the tradition when people perform Parikrima (going round) around the fire, the heat from the fire kills the bacteria in the body thus, cleansing it.

However, current Holi colors are chemical concoctions that are in fact toxic and are to be avoided at all costs. There is a movement in Indian metros to make Holi safe again.

So wish you all a Safe, and a Sound Holi.

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