In India, Holi is the festival of color and love. On this special day people are seen playing with the colored powders called “gulal” and water balloons.

This is tradition that has been carried out for centuries on the day of Holi. Every festival generally has a legend or a story behind its celebration and same goes for Holi.

Among various legends lies the story of Holika and Prahlad and it is considered to be the main reason behind the celebration of Holi. The legend of Holika dahan shows how the good always wins over the evil and it celebrated by setting up a bonfire on the night before the day of Holi.

The legend:
As mentioned in the Bhagavad Purana, once there was a demon king whose name was Hiranyakashyap. With his power and strength he had taken control over the whole of Earth. In order to make his position more powerful, he commanded everyone to worship him and worshipping any other God was forbidden. However to his great disappointment, he found out that his only son, Prahlad, was a staunch devotee and worshipper of Lord Naarayana and would worship his father by no means.

Outraged by his son’s disobedience, he plotted various ways to kill his son but failed every time as Prahlad was saved every time by Lord Vishnu. Finally Hiranyakashyap asked his sister Holika to help him kill his son. Holika was blessed with the power to enter fire without being unaffected. He had asked Holika to enter the fire along with Prahlad on her lap. Holika treacherously tempted Prahlad to sit on her lap after which she placed her own set on the blazing fire.

As the story goes, Holika had to pay for her own sins and brought about her own death. Holika was completely unaware of the fact that the blessing would work only if she would enter the fire all by herself and not along with anyone else. On the other hand, Prahlad came out of the blazing fire completely unaffected as Lord Vishnu was highly satisfied by Prahlad’s true devotion and blessed him. Thus Holi is celebrated even today to mark the victory of the good over the evil and this festival was received its name from Prahlad’s treacherous aunt, Holika. This festival also comes with the message that if your devotion is true no force can harm you no matter how strong it is. Moreover if anyone tries to do harm to a true devotee, that person will meet his end.

The celebration:

  • This legend is marked even today in various states of India and especially in Northern India.
  • The burning of Holika for her sins is imitated even today by setting up bonfires.
  • People surround the bonfire from all sides and throe cow dung at it and shout out obscene words to it imagining it to be Holika.
  • In the states of Orissa and Gujarat, this festival is observed and people pay respect to the God of Fire, Agni, by offering harvests.
  • It is often a custom for people to take home fire from this bonfire on the last day of this festival.