Festival

Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan, the Tie of Protection, has been invoked across centuries by women seeking protection from brothers for themselves or for their families. Long before Siblings Day made its appearance, Raksha Bandhan has been a festival, celebrating the special relationship between a brother and a sister.

Also called Rakhi Purnima or simply Rakhi, it is celebrated on the day of Shravan Purnima, the full moon day of the month of Shravan. This year, it falls on 29 August. It’s very meaning is the ‘tie of protection’.

By: Madhuri. Y

Rakhi – Tie of Protection

Rakhi is believed to have originated as an amulet, carrying women’s prayers to guard the men at war. Later, it evolved into its current form. Symbolising love and duty between a sister and her brother, it can be tied by sisters to siblings, cousins or even unrelated males, symbolising the same vows.

When a sister ties a Rakhi to her brother’s wrist, she shows her love towards him and prays for his well-being. At the same time, it is symbolic of the brother’s love and his vow to protect her.

Celebrated primarily by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, today it is also celebrated across religions that have been in close contact with these religions.

The ritual

Home-made or store-bought, a Rakhi is a thread, usually colourful with amulets or other decoration on top. Today, people venture out to buy watches and bracelets in place of the simple thread. After performing the Aarti – ritual rotation of a lamp around the brother’s face – the sister puts Tilak on the brother’s forehead and ties the Rakhi to his wrist. She then prays for his well being and offers sweets to him. And it’s time for the brother to offer her the gift –
small or big – he has bought for her.

The Rakhi is worn on the day of Raksha Bandhan while some retain it for a few days. Today, it is a thriving industry with Rakhis reaching distant shores from sisters to brothers in different nations.

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The Bengal split and Rakhi

When Bengal was to be divided by the British, Rabindranath Tagore began Rakhi Mahotsavs to symbolise unity and brotherhood between Hindus and Muslims of Bengal.

The celebrations eventually proved unsuccessful as Bengal was divided into West Bengal in India and East Bengal, now known as Bangladesh.

A Rakhi poem from Tagore:

The love in my body and heart For the earth’s shadow and light Has stayed over years.
With its cares and its hope it has thrown
A language of its own Into blue skies.
It lives in my joys and glooms
In the spring night’s buds and blooms
Like a Rakhi-band On the Future’s hand.

Myths

Yashoda’s prayer

Yashoda is said to have tied an amulet of Raksha Bandhan on Krishna’s wrist, according to the Vishnu Purana. She is said to have prayed thus:

May the lord of all beings protect you,

May the one who creates, preserves and dissolves life protect thee,

May Govinda guard thy head; Kesava, thy neck; Vishnu, thy belly;

The eternal Narayana, thy face, thine arms, thy mind, and faculties of sense;

May all negativity and fears, spirits malignant and unfriendly, flee thee;

May Rishikesa keep you safe in the sky; and Mahidhara, upon earth.

Draupadi and Krishna

Draupadi tears a piece of her sari to bandage Krishna’s finger when he cuts it during Shishupal’s beheading. Krishna vows to protect her and wraps her in endless cloth during the Vastra haran in the Mahabharata.

Bali and Goddess Lakshmi

After Vishnu in his Vamana avatar sends Bali to the underworld, Bali requests him to stay in his palace to which Vishnu agrees. But Goddess Lakshmi who wishes to return to Vaikunta, ties a Rakhi to Bali and as a gift, asks him to set Vishnu free from his request. Bali agrees.

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Queens and kings

Queens, particularly, Rajput queens were said to send Rakhis to neighbouring rulers to symbolise a brother-sister relationship.

According to history, King Pururava with the Greek name Porus was defeated by Alexander. An unverified story tells us that Alexander’s wife Roxana sends a Rakhi to Porus with the request not to harm Alexander. During the battle, when Porus is about to kill Alexander, he sees the Rakhi on the latter’s wrist and leaves him alone.

Yet another account is of the Mughal emperor Humayun. Unable to protect her kingdom from Bahadur Shah, the sultan of Gujarat, the widowed Rani Karnavati of 51 Chittor, sends a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun. But Humayun’s troops reach too late to save the Rani’s fortress or the Rani herself. Rani Karnavati had committed Jauhar – burning to death. Humayun, nevertheless, defeats Bahadur Shah and hands over the kingdom to the Rani’s son, Vikramjeet Singh.

Jagannath Rath Yatra

With hundreds of thousands of devotees drawing Lord Jagannath’s chariot, the Puri Rath Yatra is possibly the largest religious procession in the world.
Jagannath rath yatra marks Lord Jagannath’s annual visit from the main temple to Gundicha temple along Bada Danda, the grand avenue in Puri, Orissa. Accompanying the Lord are the deities of Balabhadra and Subhadra along with the Sudarshan Chakra.
After a nine-day stay at the Gundicha temple, the return journey, called the Bahuda Jatra, begins and with a stop at the Mausi Maa temple it returns to the main temple.
The Puri Rath Yatra is held on Ashadha Shukla Dwitiya, the second day of Ashadha’s bright fortnight and falls on July 18 this year.

Jagannath Rath Yatra

Also known as Gundicha Yatra, Ghosa Yatra, Navadina Yatra, Dasavatara Yatra, it involves a procession of the three chariots which resemble temple structures.
The Chhera Pahara is held in which the king, wearing a sweeper’s outfit, sweeps around the chariots with water, cleansing the road with a gold-handled broom and sprinkling sandalwood water and powder. The ritual signifies the absence of distinction between a powerful king and a humble devotee.
The chariots are drawn through the streets by devotees, accompanied by devotional songs with drums, tambourines and trumpets. Non-Hindus who are not allowed into the temple get a chance to see the deities.
Devotees believe that a glimpse of Lord Jagannath during the Yatra releases a person from the cycle of birth and death and that the chariot, the wheels and the avenue become one with Lord Jagannath himself, making it an auspicious event.
The Suna Besha celebration follows when on return to the main temple the deities are adorned with gold ornaments and worshipped on the chariots.

The chariots

Logs from the Phassi, Dhausa trees among others from Dasapalla, a former kingdom, are floated along the Mahanadi river and are collected near Puri.

A team of carpenters with the hereditary responsibility of building the chariots begin to build them each year on Akshaya Trithiya, the third day of Vaisakha’s bright fortnight in front of the king of Puri’s palace and opposite the Puri temple’s main office.

Chandan Yatra, the three-week sandalwood festival begins on this day. A procession of the Utsav Murtis – representative images – with a boat ride in the Narendra tank marks each day. They are accompanied by deities of Puri’s five main Shiva temples, known as Pancha Pandavas.

Chandan Yatra ends with the Snana Yatra, when the deities are bathed in 108 pots of water brought from the golden well. Now the deities are at rest for about two weeks and devotees cannot view them.

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Chariot decorations follow centuries-old prescription. Lord Jagannath’s chariot, the Nandighosa, also known as Garuda Dhwaja or Kapi Dhwaja is 45-feet high and 45-feet square at the level of its 16 wheels. The 7-foot diametre wheels give an idea of its massive scale. Krishna, with whom Lord Jagannath is identified, is believed to wear golden yellow robes, hence the chariot is decorated in red and yellow cloth.
Lord Balarama’s chariot, the Taladhwaja is 44-feet high, carries a palm tree on its flag, has 14 wheels and is covered with a red and blue cloth.
Subhadra’s chariot, the Dwarpadalana (one that tramples pride), is also known as Padma Dhwaja or Deva Dalana. It is 43-feet high, has 12 wheels and is decorated with a red and black cloth. The significance of black lies in its association with Shakti.
Painted wooden images of other deities stand around each chariot. Four horses draw the chariots, dark for Lord Jagannath, white for Balarama and red for Subhadra.

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Vesak – Buddha Purnima

Buddha Purnima may be celebrated on different days in different places, but acceptance of Gautama Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path cuts across cultures.

Vesak, Buddha Purnima, Buddha Jayanti, or simply Buddha Day,whichever name you call it by, it stands
for the birth, the enlightenment and the death of the Buddha, according to Theravada Buddhism.

In Nepal, considered the birth-nation of Buddha, it is celebrated on the full moon day of the Vaisakha month of the Hindu calendar, hence the name Vesak.In India too, it is celebrated on the same day – 4th May this year. Based on different lunar calendars, different parts of the world celebrate it on different days,ranging up to the 1st of June.

Vesak
Vesak is celebrated with chants and prayers of the Buddha, the Dhamma

(Buddha’s teachings) and the Sangha (thedisciples). The Buddhist flag is hoisted and flowers and offerings are presented at the temples. The day is filled with talks by monks and with meditation.
Candlelight processions make up the evening celebrations. At other places,parades and festivity with decorations to temples and city streets mark the day.

Behind the offerings made on Vesak is great symbolism. Just as the flowers wither and candles andincense sticks burn out, life too decays and is destroyed.

Buddhapainting

The Four Noble Truths

Suffering: Although Buddha’s teaching of dukka is translated into suffering, Theravada monks explain dukka as that which is incapable of satisfying.

Cause of Suffering: The cause of suffering is craving and desire. In reality, it is the attachment to what we desire that causes suffering.Attachment requires an attacher and something to attach to – both of which are seen as separate. The Buddha had taught that this is an illusion.

Cessation of Suffering:The solution to dukka is to give up attachment. Although we cling to things that are expected to give us happiness, eventually we will be disappointed since they are
impermanent. The moment we see their impermanence, we stop grasping and attachment begins to disappear.

Path to Cessation of Suffering: It is the noble Eight-Fold Path and it talks of aspects ranging from
understanding and conduct to mindfulness. This fourth truth is the practical aspect of the Buddha’s
teaching.

The Eight-Fold Path

Right View: The right understanding, remaining free from prejudice, confusion, misunderstanding and delusion and being able to see the true nature of life. Such a mind is open and flexible and leads to liberation.

Right Intention: Directing the mind towards what is right and turning away from evil and ill-will. It involves a resolution towards renunciation and harmlessness.

Right Speech: To be kind and courteous to all and to stay away from lies, divisions, abuse and idle talk.

Right Action: This is the act of right conduct, to be morally correct, to perform peaceful acts and to be benevolent and compassionate. It also means to abstain from stealing, killing and to live a celibate life.

Right Livelihood: To earn livelihood through honest means without causing evil. To stay away from trading in weapons,slave trading, prostitution, animal slaughter, trading in intoxicating items, or poisons designed to kill.

Right Effort: A consistent effort to move away from harmful thoughts, words and actions and to overcome ignorance and selfish desires.

Right Mindfulness: Remaining alert to things that affect the body and mind and to have good thoughts since what we speak arises from our thoughts.

Right Concentration: Also called right meditation, it is about concentrating on the object of attention until one gains full concentration and a state of meditative absorption.

Buddhastatues

Buddha is said to have told Ananda,his faithful disciple on how to pay homage to him. “Do not weep nanda,” he said, “understand that all bodies must disintegrate. Do not cry of the body’s disintegration, but regard my teachings as the teacher from here on. Only the truth in the teachings is eternal and not subject to change.” He added,“Paying homage to me is not merely with flowers, incense and lights, but to follow the teachings.”

Hence, the right way to celebrate Vesak is to lead a noble life, to develop the mind, to practice loving-kindness and to bring peace and harmony to humanity.

In some temples, a small statue of the Buddha is placed in a basin of water.Devotees pour water over it, symbolically cleansing their bad karma.

On his enlightenment, Buddha had taught the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path to attain enlightenment. With these teachings, Buddhism has become a way of peaceful and harmonious life.

Zen Buddhism

Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism. It is a Japanese word originating from Ch’an in China which itself came from the Sanskrit Dhyana. It simply means meditation.

Hanuman Jayanti

There’s more to Hanuman than being the God who wards off evil spirits. He’s the perfect devotee, the symbol of wisdom, courage and immense strength. Yet, he doesn’t know his powers.

By Madhuri.Y

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The vanaras stood helpless, facing the ocean. Across the ocean, Sita was Ravana’s prisoner in Lanka. Who among them could cross the mighty ocean? None, it seemed.

Hanuman sat silent, gazing at the waters. Jambavanth, the wise one, knew Hanuman’s strength. He knew that when the mischievous child Hanuman had teased the sages, they placed a mild curse on him, that he shall not know his own powers unless reminded.

Now, Jambavanth reminded him of those powers, “O Hanuman, you do not know your own strength. Why do you remain silent? Son of Vayu, you can leap across the ocean.”

As the vanaras began praising him, Hanuman grew larger and larger and he remembered his strength. In all humility, he bowed to the elders and took off across the ocean.

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ESSENCE OF HANUMAN
When he was a child, Hanuman flew to the Sun, mistaking it for a ripe mango. It was the time of the sun’s eclipse, but Hanuman did not allow Rahu to cause the eclipse. On Rahu’s complaint, Indra flung his vajrayudh at Hanuman, striking his jaw and causing a permanent mark.

Hanuman fell unconscious to the earth. An upset Vayu withdrew air and went into seclusion. The devas then revived Hanuman and gave him many boons. Hanuman became chiranjeevi, blessed with immortality, protection from weapons and more.

Lord Hanuman moves with the speed of the wind itself. The symbol of strength and energy, he offers protection from evil spirits. For all the strength he possesses, Hanuman doesn’t know his own strength. He is all humility and wisdom and is a celibate.

He is the perfect devotee utterly devoted to Lord Ram. Hanuman represents the mind and Lord Ram, the soul. Hanuman’s devotion represents surrender of the mind to the soul that is, of matter to spirit.

HANUMAN’S BIRTH
Hanuman’s mother Anjana had been an apsara. When she angered sage Angiras, he cursed her to be born as a monkey. But, she was also given the blessing that a great devotee of the Paramatma will be born to her.

While Anjana was worshipping Lord Shiva for a child, King Dasharath of Ayodhya was performing the putrakameshti yagna to have children. When he received the sacred kheer, a kite swooped down and carried a part of it, dropping it in the forest where Anjana was worshipping Lord Shiva.

On Shiva’s instruction, Vayu, the God of wind, delivered it to Anjana’s outstretched hands. When she ate it, Hanuman, an incarnation of Lord Shiva, was born.

Thus, five divine factors led to Hanuman’s birth – the curse and the blessings of sage Angiras, blessings of Lord Shiva, blessings of Lord Vayu and the kheer from Dasharath’s yagna.

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HANUMAN JAYANTI
Hanuman Jayanti is celebrated on the full moon day in the bright fortnight of Chaitra. In some places, it is said to fall on the 14th day – chaturdasi – in the dark fortnight of Ashvin.

Discourses are held in Hanuman temples until dawn and prasad is offered at sunrise, the time of Hanuman’s birth.

To worship at home, you can install an idol or an image of Lord Hanuman. Wash it and offer orange sindoor with your ring finger.

You can then offer calotropis flowers and leaves in multiples of five. Light incense of kewda, chameli or ambar, make sure that you light two of them. Holding them between the thumb and the index fingers of your right hand, wave them three times in full circle in the clockwise direction. If you do pradakshina, do it five times or in multiples of five.

PANCHMUKHI HANUMAN
Ravana took the help of Ahiravana during the war against Ram. Ahiravana appeared in Vibhishana’s form, tricking Ram and Lakshman and taking them to patala as captives. Five lamps burning in different directions must be extinguished to kill Ahiravana.

Hanuman took the form of Panchamukhi with the faces of Hanuman, Hayagriva, Narasimha, Garuda and Varaha, extinguished the lamps, killing the rakshasa and rescuing Ram and Lakshman.

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Ram Navami

Celebrate the birth of Maryada Purushottama, Rama – listen to his story, meditate on his noble qualities or chant his name to ease suffering and to cleanse your soul.

By Madhuri.Y

The story of Lord Rama’s birth begins with Ravana.

After years of penance, Ravana, the demon king of Lanka, was blessed with Lord Brahma’s boon that amrit will be stored below his navel, making him almost immortal. Ravana also received Lord Shiva’s boon that he shall not die in the hands of devas, gandharvas, yakhshas or asuras.

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Holding humans in contempt as weaklings, Ravana did not include them in the boon he had asked for. That proved to be his undoing.

Powerful beyond measure, he then wreaked terror on the people. Wherever he went, victory was his. He defeated the devas, destroyed sacrifices and killed the rishis. He even held Indra prisoner and mocked him. Unable to bear his wrath, the devas went to Lord Vishnu, pleading for relief.

Lord Vishnu agreed and took his seventh incarnation as a human. He was born to King Dasaratha as Rama at noon on the ninth day of shukla paksh (bright half) in the month of Chaitra. This is the day of

Ram Navami.

CELEBRATING RAM NAVAMI
On the day of Ram Navami, Ravana’s 10-headed effigy, filled with firecrackers, is paraded through towns and cities. At the end of it, it is pierced with an arrow and Ravana’s effigy is burnt. Chants of Jai Shri Ram reverberate.

Elaborate pujas and chanting of Rama’s name apart, temples conduct special services and bhajans through the day. If a temple or a congregation undertakes a discourse on the Ramayana with a pundit reciting the epic, it is a good idea to attend it. The discourse is usually held for nine days, beginning with Ugadi, the first day of

Chaitra and ends on Ram Navami.

While some devotees observe a fast from sunrise to sunset on the day, others fast the eight days preceding Ram Navami too, beginning with the first day of Chaitra. Ideally, you should observe the fast without asking for special favours. Seek perfection as a human being, the way Rama had been.

Rama is believed to be the perfect man, hence he is called uttama purusha or maryada purushottama. Listening to his story, the Ramayana, is believed to cleanse the soul. Meditate on his noble qualities, or chant his name like Valmiki did – it is believed to ease your suffering and lead you to liberation.

STORY OF RAMA
Rama, the first of King Dasaratha’s sons, is born to Kausalya. His half-brothers, Lakshmana and Satrughna, are born to Sumitra; and Bharata to Kaikeyi. When he is to be made the crown-prince, Kaikeyi forces Dasaratha to send Rama to the forest on a 14-year exile. Rama’s wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana accompany him. When Ravana kidnaps Sita, Rama with the help of Sugriva’s army of monkeys, including Hanuman, builds a bridge to Lanka, kills Ravana and brings Sita back.

When he returns to Ayodhya, he is crowned the king and rules for many years. Lord Rama’s reign is known as Rama Rajya, a period of peace, prosperity and based on dharma.

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AYODHYA
Ayodhya being Lord Rama’s birthplace, the celebrations are particularly intense here. If you happen to be in Ayodhya for the celebrations, you may want to do as the other devotees do – take a dip in the River Sarayu followed by a visit to the temple of Lord Rama. Ayodhya’s rath yatra is famous with people enacting the roles of Rama and the other characters from the Ramayana on the chariot through the procession.

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RAMESHWARAM
In Rameshwaram, you might end up taking the ritual bath in the sea before worshipping Lord Rama at the Ramanathaswamy temple. According to legend, Lord Rama built the bridge to Lanka from here.

It is here that Rama prayed to Lord Shiva to absolve himself of brahmahatya patakam, the sin he earned by killing Ravana who was a Brahmin*.

*Ravana’s father was the brahmin sage Vishrava while his mother was a daitya (asura) princess Kaikesi.

Ramanathaswamy-Temple-in-Rameswaram

BHADRACHALAM
If you happen to be in South India, you can watch the Sita Rama Kalyanam, the wedding of Rama and Sita on the day of Ram Navami. Panakam – a jaggery-peppery drink is prepared and the deities taken out in procession in the evening. For a true view of the kalyanam, visit Lord Rama’s 17th century temple in Bhadrachalam, situated on the banks of the River Godavari in Telangana.

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SITA SAMAHIT STHAL
Yet another holy place you may want to visit is the Sita Samahit Sthal temple between Allahabad and Varanasi. It is believed to be the place where Sita descended into mother earth.

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Celebrating Holi

Festival of colours and love, which heralds spring and a signifier of the triumph of good over evil – Holi carries many connotations like the many colours used to celebrate the festival.

By Madhuri.Y

Goodbye winter, welcome spring!

With a rainbow of colours, Holi brings new energy, marking the beginning of a new season and of a new year. Colours, song and dance give Holi a particularly lively and energetic aura.

As with other festivals, Holi’s real importance lies not just in its connotations from the past, but in its current relevance. In signifying the victory of good over evil, it exhorts us to rid ourselves of past mistakes and wrongdoings, burning them in the symbolic fire, reminding us to forgive others for their mistakes, to end conflicts and to strengthen our relationships.

CELEBRATIONS
Celebrated on the last full moon day of Phalgun, which occurs in February or March, the festival falls on March 6 this year.

To many, it is a three-day festival. On the first day, the eldest member of the family sprinkles colour on his family members. On day two, the Holika bonfire is lit with people praying, singing and dancing around it.

Day three is Holi, also called Dhuli in Sanskrit or Dhuleti. People spray gulal – water with colour mixed in it – with pichkaris. Others smear dry powdered colours, abir, on one another. Water balloons have become a part of Holi too. Gujiya, mathri, malpua, puran poli, dahi vada, other delicacies and chilled drinks are part of the celebration.

Although synthetic colours have made their entry, traditionally, natural plant-based colours have been used, with flowers of flame of the forest, sandal wood, hibiscus, radish, pomegranate, beetroot, saffron, turmeric, mehendi, gulmohar,

Indian berries, tea leaves, gooseberry, grapes and more.

In many regions, young boys form human pyramids to break the pot of buttermilk hung high above while girls throw coloured water on them. This is symbolic of the play between Krishna and the cowherds with the gopikas.

DIFFERENT PLACES – DIFFERING CELEBRATIONS
In Gujarat, where Krishna is said to have migrated with the Yadava clan, it is a two-day festival. Raw coconut and corn is offered in the Holika fire. The second day is Dhuleti, the festival of colour. The festival is of particular significance in the Dwarkadheesh temple of Dwarka on Gujarat’s west coast.

Just as Holika Dahan marks the festival, Kama Dahan is celebrated in some regions and is called Rangpanchami, occurring on the fifth day after the full moon.

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In Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon and Barsana, which are associated with Lord Krishna, Holi’s importance is visible in the fact that it is celebrated for about a week until Rangpanchami, marking the divine love of Radha and Krishna.

Barsana near Mathura sees the celebrations as Lath mar Holi in the Radha Rani temple in which women symbolically beat men with sticks while the latter protect themselves with shields.

Of modern significance is the celebration in the Kanpur area where it

is a seven-day festival. Ganga Mela or Holi Mela, the grand fair is held on the last day. The mela has its origins in India’s freedom movement. Freedom fighters under Nana Saheb’s leadership were instrumental in starting the mela. It is celebrated on the ghats along the Ganga in Kanpur, marking the resistance by Hindus and Muslims against the British in 1857.

The festival goes by the name of Holi in Punjabi and Hindi; Fagu in Nepali; Phakuwa, Phagwah, Dol Jatra in Assam; Dolajatra in Odisha and Basantotsav in West Bengal.

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Abroad, Hindus in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, Malaysia, Mauritius, Fiji, United Kingdom, United States and other nations celebrate Holi.

STORIES BEHIND HOLI
Holika & Prahlad

After long penance, Lord Brahma appeared to the demon king Hiranyakashyap, and gave him a boon that made him invincible. The king could no longer be killed during day or night, inside his home or outside, on earth or in sky, neither by man nor by animal, not by astra or by shastra.

The king now demanded that people worship him as God. But his own son, Prahlad, a devotee of Lord Vishnu refused. The furious Hiranyakashyap tried to poison Prahlad, made elephants walk over him, locked him in a room full of poisonous snakes, but he remained unharmed.

Hiranyakashyap then turned to his sister Holika, ordering Prahlad to sit on a burning pyre with her. Since Holika had the boon that protected her from burning, the king believed that his son would die in the pyre. Sitting in Holika’s lap, Prahlad prayed to Lord Vishnu who protected him while Holika burned to ashes.

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At this point, Lord Vishnu made his appearance in the form of Lord Narashimha and killed Hiranyakashyap. The word ‘Holi’ emerges from ‘Holika’ and symbolises the victory of good over evil.

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Radha & Krishna

When the she-demon Putana poisoned Lord Krishna with her breast milk, his skin turned dark blue. As he grew up, Krishna worried whether Radha and the gopikas who were fair-skinned would like him. Tired of his questions, mother Yashoda asked him to colour Radha’s face with his choice of colour.

Krishna’s playful colouring of Radha’s face is celebrated as Holi, giving it importance as the festival of love.