Holi – The Holy way or the Highway?

Radha looked like Krishna and Krishna looked like Radha. Radha said to Krishna, “Mein to teri ho-lee!” (I belong to you now!)

Holi – The Holy way or the Highway?

Holi, the festival of colours, may be celebrated as a holy day reminiscing the love of Radha and Krishna. It can also be a loud and rowdy holiday where you can sing, dance and drink like crazy, mess around with colours and water guns, parade the highways playing Punjabi beats, till you go bonkers. And still get away with all the tom-foolery!

Radha’s sweetheart Krishna, was dark skinned. Radha was fair skinned. Radha offered colours to Krishna asking him to colour her in any colour he liked. It is said that after Radha and Krishna played Holi, Radha looked like Krishna and Krishna looked like Radha. Radha said to Krishna, “Mein to teri ho-lee!” (I belong to you now!) The Gwalas (cowherds) from Nandgaon would go to Barsana to play Holi with Radha and the gopikas. The famous Raas-Leela between Krishna and Radha happened here. The tradition continues.

The demon Hiranyakashyapu wanted everyone to worship him as God. His son Prahalad, worshipped Lord Vishnu. This enraged him. Holika, the sister of Hiranyakashyapu had a boon that fire could not harm her. So she took the child Prahalad in her lap and sat on a pyre. When the pyre was lit, Holika was burnt to ashes, while Prahalad remained unscathed. Jubilant at the burning of Holika, people played Holi with her ashes. This became a part of Holi celebrations.

Once when Hiranyakashyapu was engaged in severe austerities to become immortal, his wife Kayadu took shelter at the ashram of Sage Narada. At this time, she was carrying Prahalad in her womb. While Kayadu gained the knowledge of spirituality from Narada, the foetus also heard everything, absorbed the great learnings and became devoted to Lord Narayana. Many years later, when Hiranyakashyapu was enraged at Prahalad’s statement that God is omnipresent, he shouted asking if God was present in the pillar in front of them. Prahalad said, “Yes.” Bursting with anger and frustration, Hiranyakashyapu struck the pillar with his mighty mace. The pillar broke and out came a creature that was half man-half lion. That was the Nara-Simha avatar of Vishnu having a lion’s head and a man’s body. His nails were like the claws of a lion. He sat in the doorway of the palace, placed Hiranyakashyapu across his thighs and tore open his body with his bare claws. Holi celebrates the annihilation of sensual values by spiritual values and the victory of good over evil.

Holi is also called Vasant Utsav. Spring is at its best on Holi. In Vrindavan, people play Holi with flower-petals. Besides that, natural colours are prepared from vegetables and flowers. With growing awareness urbanites too are preferring natural Holi colours over artificial ones.

There is much to be learnt from the love between Radha and Krishna. Radha spent each moment of her life in thoughts of Krishna. When Krishna returned to Vrindavan from Mathura, He found Radha sitting on the banks of the Yamuna, lost in thought. He said, “Radha! I have come back.” Radha could feel Krishna with her, in her, around her … all the time. She was completely immersed in him. She said, “When did you leave that you have come back, as you say?” Krishna told her to ask him for anything. Radha said that she wanted nothing. Krishna asked, “Not even my love?” Radha replied, “I know that I love you. You are mine. That’s enough for me. I don’t expect anything from you. Not even your love!” Krishna was at a loss for words. He said, “Radha, This is the first time, I have been a recipient of something from a devotee!” Pure love is all God wants from us!

Our festivals keep reminding us that devotion and goodness are the way to God. Evil begets evil. Remember the real meaning of Holi while enjoying the Gujiyas, Malpuas, Phirni and Thandai!

This piece is published in the Hindustan Times on 24.03.2024. It can be viewed here https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/chandigarh-news/sunrays-holi-the-holy-way-or-the-highway-101711227101400.html

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