Tag Archives: Hindu holiday

The Ever-Celebrated Victory of Good Over Evil

The Interviewer will be referred to as ‘I’, and the informant as ‘M’. Translations for Hindi words will be italicised and in parentheses. The Informant is a 65-year-old Punjabi woman, born and raised in Gujarat.

I: Many people have heard about Holi, but don’t know the story behind it. Could you share this story? 

M: So, Holi, an ancient Hindu festival, actually means burning, and is derived from the name Holika. Holika was believed to be a person, the sister of the demon king Hiranyakashyap, who wanted to avenge his brother’s death at the hands of Lord Vishnu (the preserver, protection). So, he did intense penance and appeased Lord Brahma (the creator of the universe, knowledge), who finally gave him a boon that made him (virtually) indestructible. What happened afterwards is predictable, because… he became arrogant, he started thinking he was god, and told everyone to worship him as if he was. His wife was scared, but Brahma’s son (Narasimha, who later does kill Hiranyakashyap) told her to confine herself and worship Lord Vishnu, who would keep her safe. Then, her son was born, Prahlad, and he was very devoted to Vishnu… and—and no matter how hard he tried, Hiranyakashyap couldn’t kill him—he refused to worship Hiranyakashyap as god—even though he thought he was near all-powerful because of his gift, right? So, he went mad with rage and then decided to take his sister’s help to burn his son alive in a fire—this sister being Holika. She also had a boon that made her immune to fire, so she could hold him within the fire, but he prayed to Vishnu, who called—who summoned wind that blew the shawl from Holika onto him—oh, the shawl was what made her immune to fire, it was only if she wore that. This is why Holika was burned alive, and Prahlad survived. Hiranyakashyap was obviously angry, thinking of more tricks to kill his son, but that’s another story. Basically, the day Holika burned started being celebrated as ‘Holika Dahan’, the victory of good over evil, light over darkness. 

I: Thank you! And when it comes to the celebration itself, the festival, what is generally carried out, other than the colours? 

M: People gather around—in a circle, around a pyre-looking thing, essentially signifying Holika, and they burn this as almost a cleansing ritual. You take all the flammable things you have, old things, trash, wood, anything that you want to get rid of, for a new beginning. After this is burned, people take these ashes, along with, I believe, some sandalwood and leaves, and put them on their head to promote health. On the next day, there’s the festival of colours—that’s what Holi is usually thought of… associated with, more widely. The play with colours is thought to enhance health, body and mind, and you also clean your houses to allow positive energy to flow into the home environment and get rid of bad things, like insects. It also has a big significance because… people come together, you see, it strengthens their bond when they play during this festival. This can turn enemies into friends, removes any differences between people, you give gifts to your family and friends, and you put colour on… nearly everyone you see around you. We also have this drink called Bhaang, which the adults usually drink during this celebration, it is a derivative of grass (Cannabis)… It’s celebrated before the summer and after the winter, so people are feeling lazy and tired, so at this time, Holi brings a lot of activities and happiness, new starts. People feel much better. It also brings in the spring!

I: Is the story of Holika the only origin of Holi? Because I’ve noticed that the Holika Dahan festival is more prominent in the North, not as much so in Mumbai.

M: There are many stories, relating to Holi being celebrated within Hindu stories. There’s one about Radha and Krishna and their love, their divine love… another one from the South has to do with Shiva saving the world… I’m not as familiar with those, if I’m being fully honest, but it is celebrated and thought of very differently in different states, but it’s always a festival of colours and happiness, of fun. 


There is a lot that comes with Holi, the favourite festival of many, but it is known largely for its more familiar portion of the festival of colours. However, the story behind it is not as familiar to people, and neither is the ceremonial burning of Holika, at least outside of North India. Most Indian festivals celebrate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and Holi is no exception. Another such festival would be Diwali, the festival of lights, in celebration of Lord Rama’s defeat of Raavana. This story specifically, the one of Hiranyakashyap, Prahlad, and Holika, has a lot of mythological significance due to its divine characters (Hinduism is polytheistic): Brahma, the creator of the universe, and Vishnu, its preserver, two out of the Trimurti of principal Hindu deities (the third is Shiva, the destroyer, also part of the continuation of this seemingly never-ending epic story). This continued emphasis on the victory of good over evil says a lot about the values that ancient conceptions of Hinduism and its traditions are built upon: the belief that good will always win, and light will always prosper, even after the darkest times. Simultaneously, the way these celebrations are conducted, the traditions and rituals within them have a lot to do with colours and light, but primarily with a coming-together of the community, where people find joy and love in each other, no matter what, and have fun. The coming of spring is also a widely celebrated thing across the world, and this celebration usually falls sometime in March, around the time the Springtime comes in, in the states that do experience it!

Durga Puja


The informant – RB – is a middle-aged Hindu woman, originally from West Bengal, India. She now works as a nutritionist in South Florida, and is one of my mother’s closest friends. The following happened during a conversation in which I asked her to tell me about some of her favorite Indian folklore, particularly about holidays and celebrations.


We have another festival that is very… what should I say? It’s the main festival from West Bengal, which is where I come from. And that’s called Durga Puja. Puja is any kind of celebration that involves some kind of religious prayer ceremony. So let me start off with Dussehra. So what happens is, and as you know, our Indian calendar is a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar. So the date of this celebration varies from end of September to end of October, depending on the lunar cycle. It’s actually a nine day festival, but the main days of the celebration are days six, seven, eight, and nine. And on the tenth day, so the story goes like this:

There’s this goddess, Durga, she lives in the Himalayas with her husband Shiva. And she has two sons and two daughters. One of her daughters is the goddess of wealth, Laxmi. Her other daughter is the daughter of knowledge, Saraswati. The other son used to be the sons of fighting battles, Kartik. And then there’s the elephant god, the youngest of her sons, Ganesh.

I’ll tell you a little story about Ganesh. His mother was taking a bath and she told him that, “You know what, I’m taking a bath, don’t let anybody come in here, because I don’t want anybody to come in.”

In the meantime, his father, Shiva, comes to visit, and Ganesh says, “You can’t come in,” because, apparently, he’s never seen his father before.

His father, also a god, says “Of course I can go in, that’s my house.”

And Ganesh said, “No, you cannot go in! My mom said I’m supposed to be guarding the door and I won’t let you in.” The father gets very upset and looks at Ganesh with so much anger, that his head falls off his shoulder.
The mother comes out and sees what’s happened, and is like, “Why did you just do that to our little boy?”

So by that time, his anger has kind of subsided, and he’s like, “Oh my god, we can’t have him without a head. We have to find a new head!” So apparently, he sends people all over the world, saying, “Go find me the first living creature who’s sleeping with its head facing the East. Cut off its head and bring it to me.” So everybody goes everywhere and can’t find someone, because, apparently in India you can’t sleep with your head towards the East, since the sun rises in the East. They go all over the world, and they find this elephant. So what they do is, they cut off its head and they bring it.

And the mother goes, “What the heck! I can’t put that head on my little baby!”

The father says, “Well, I can’t change the rule, I said the first living being with its head facing the East,” so he puts the head on the child, and the child is alive.

The mother goes, “No one is going to worship him! Everyone will make fun of him! Nobody is going to respect him.” So now it is written that, before any prayer or any celebration, – anything – you have to first pray to Ganesh before you can do any official celebration. So now in every part of India, before prayer, or any celebration – a wedding, anything – you must first pray to Ganesh. Ganesh is also the God of removing obstacles, so he’s become a very popular symbol. I have a Ganesh in my house; I think your mom has a Ganesh in your house, too.

So, that is Ganesh’s story, but that is also the youngest son of Durga when she comes to visit. And so the art is her parent’s house. So she comes for those few days, with her children, and on the tenth day, she goes back to the Himalayas to be with her husband. So what happens in West Bengal where I come from, is those days are… it’s a lot of fun, all the schools, offices, colleges, everything is closed. It’s hard for me to explain. They put up all these temporary structures on the streets and stuff and then have these celebrations and, it’s like all over West Bengal. And there is food, there is music, there is lighting. So that is the story behind one of our festivals.

RB: We call it religious, but they are more social religious than just religious, because it all involves inviting people, having dinners, lunches, dressing up, having music and dances. There’s a lot of culture that is associated with these festivals, so it is not that you’re just in the temple, reciting hymns or chanting. That is a very small part. It’s all about dressing up, looking good, and eating food. That is how we keep in touch with each other. At these festivals, at these religious ceremonies as we call it, we go visit each other. We keep in touch with each other and socialize with each other. I think we use it more for socializing and less for religion, which is how it should be.

One thing I want to clarify is that Hinduism is not a religion. It is mostly a way of life. And that is why you can’t be converted to Hinduism: because, either you are born one or you’re not. And if you are born one, you are taught the way of life since you’re born. But, you can still marry into it. We do not require people to change their religion when you marry, because we just think that when you come to a Hindu household, you will learn the way of life. Hinduism does not require that you go to a temple everyday, or pray everyday. They just teach us that everything should be a part of your life: that you clean your house and take care of each other, etc.


It was very fascinating to hear about how many of the primary holidays in India/West Bengal have elaborate creation myths of their own. It seems that many of the holidays are tied in directly with the events of the religion’s mythology, celebrating anniversaries of the Gods’ actions and locations in the mythologies.

It seems as though Hindus really value large social gatherings, and use religious holidays as excuses to throw huge social celebrations. In fact, it seems that the point of many religious occasions is much more social than it is religious. I feel that this is likely the result of a seemingly much more inclusive and accepting religion, that values socializing and lifestyle over religious and social boundaries.