Holi is a festival which reminds us of a vibrant and colourful life which God has bestowed upon us. The colours through which Holi is played denotes the various facets of life: moods, emotions, situations, attachments and aversions, spiritual gyan, seasons, nature, evolution and involution of the universe, unity in diversity, maya, one becoming many and many being one.
In reality colours are nothing but the perception by our brains, otherwise as such there are no colours in the universe. It is just light and the light in different frequencies is perceived as the different colours. Life would have been boring if our brain would not have perceived different colours. Imagine a world without any colour; everything would exist only in black and white. How dull, dry, boring, monotonous, lifeless, unexciting and spiritless life would have been.
As all the various colours emanate from one source, so does the universe. The universe has emanated from one supreme divine source. That one only has become many and in many that one alone exists. When we see many as reality then it is called maya and in many when that one source is seen it’s called enlightenment.
Enlightenment is clouded by the negative nature of the mind which includes excessive attachment to things and beings, the fear for loss of things and beings, the feeling of ownership of things and being that results in anger, disappointment, anxiety, revenge, enmity, jealousy, hatred, etc.
Holika Dahan, a name given to the Holi bonfire, is basically a ritual followed on the night preceding the festival of Holi. During the Holika Dahan, logs of wood, old furniture, clothes, waste material, etc are burnt in the bonfire denoting the burning of Holika, a demon and the sister of the demon king, Hiranyakashyapa.
Legend says that the notorious demon king, Hiranyakashyapa, the father of Prahlad, once ordered his sister, Holika, to take Prahlad in her lap and sit in the bonfire to kill Prahlad. Holika had a protective shawl which would protect her from the fire if that shawl is placed on her shoulder. She invited Prahlad to sit on her lap and after putting the shawl on her shoulders she entered the bonfire.
Prahlad was a staunch devotee of Lord Narayana. He would always chant the name of Narayana in ecstasy. He willingly sat on the laps of Holika and as usual went on chanting Narayana Narayana, unbothered about the danger of the fire.
A strong wind blew and blew away the shawl from Holika’s shoulders, which landed on Prahlad’s shoulders. Prahlad got protection from the fire and Holika was completely burnt into ashes and died. This instance gave the name to the bonfire as Holika Dahan meaning the burning of Holika and the ritual is followed on the night preceding the festival of Holi.
This ritual of burning of the bonfire on the night preceding the festival of Holi basically signifies burning of the inner demons which are in the form of negative thoughts, hatred, jealousy, enmity, revenge, violence, etc.
Once the inner demon is burnt away and the inner self is cleansed and becomes pure then as a celebration of the victory of good over evil, the festival of Holi is celebrated with enthusiasm, gaiety and by playing with colours, songs, dances, mouth-watering delicacies, thandai (a drink with milk, badam, etc), greeting people and with prayers for everyone’s well being.
Holi is also called the Spring Festival since this day is considered as the end of a gloomy winter and the start of spring followed by summer, promising a good harvest for the farmers and blooming flowers in the gardens filling the atmosphere with their fragrance.
Holi also signifies the joyous Rasleela of lord Krishna with the Gopis. While the Rasleela is considered a divine dance between the Lord and his women devotees — the Gopis — but spiritually it signifies that the Lord himself is present within every being. During the Rasleela, Krishna acquired as many forms as the Gopis and made every Gopi feel that he was dancing exclusively with her. This symbolises unity in diversity. Diversity makes one’s life vibrant and colourful and unity in it makes everyone love every other soul unconditionally.