Tag Archives: holi

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!


“Holi is one of the most celebrated Indian festivals because of the color it adds to everyone’s life, literally. It is a jubilant two-day festival which my family celebrates by lighting a bonfire on the first night to cleanse all the bad and evil. The next day is all about the festival of colors and we start by applying powdered colors on each other followed by dancing and eating delicious meals. Holi gives us a chance to be reborn and melt away the bad and negative things within us.”


Though Holi has arguably made an appearance into the mainstream through uses of color at various festivals, the interlocutor asserts that Holi is the best celebration that involves color. He has actively participated in Holi celebrations throughout his entire life, claiming it was an event he looked forward to each year. He remembered the agonizing anticipation he felt as a child waiting for this festival to arrive, as it was a time in which his energy could be channeled into something wild and fun without restraint. Holi, he stated, is the time when no one can hold back on their energy; everyone has to keep their spirits high throughout the entirety of the two days. He also mentioned that he mutters good wishes during the prior bonfire, mainly to strengthen the positive and purifying effects of the fire. He claimed that while Holi is meant to be a fun break from every day life, its cultural significance allows every participant to reconnect with themselves and the community in the most exuberant manner.

The vibrant colors of Holi tend to speak for themselves, illustrating the brightness and positivity that Indians seek and value. The two days demonstrate immense stamina, also demonstrating an incredible desire through the process—people would not be so incredibly energetic for two days if they did not have the desire to take a break from the trials and tribulations of life. Despite the myriad colors used to celebrate, there appears to be quite a distinct dichotomy between the forces of good and evil. The bonfire and the many colors are meant to dispel the forces of evil, allowing the good to prevail through it. Yet, good takes on many different forms for various people, and the numerous colors and sparks of the bonfire allow that good to manifest itself through its diverse configurations. Thus, Holi is a celebration that is communal while also obtaining the ability to be personalized for everyone involved.

Crash Course in Indian Culture (Holi/Colors/Bindi/Henna)

Continued from the prior interview. Collected from 20 year old female. Indian, raised Hindu. Here she talks about the festival of Holi, as well as the importance of color and how that is demonstrated at weddings and in traditional garb.

Informant: In the spring we celebrate Holi, h-o-l-i. That is when everyone throws colors at eachother . That is for a couple of reasons. This one is hard because I don’t know the whole story about it, I just know the general gist. There is a demonness, like a bad guy who is a woman. And her name is holika, h-o-l-i-k-a. That’s where the name comes from. And I am pretty sure she was evil and somehow either she just died in a fire or someone killed her using fire, but because she finally died, we all celebrate holi as we all are hapypy becuasse spring came out of that. So holi is also the celebration of the start of spring. That is why you throw colors and stuff because spring… colors… happy. So when you celebrate holi, everyone has a bunch of colored powder and a bunch of water and you just kind of throw them at eachother and you say happy holi. It is also a happy time. I don’t think… maybe it is just we never celebrated them… but we don’t have any depressing holidays. You know how like Jewish people have Yom Kippur and stuff like that. We don’t really have that because there is no like, in Hinduism there’s not really like in Christianity and Judiaism where hthey have sins and atonement and all that crap. Hinduism, which is really why I like it, it is not about doing bad things and making up for them, it is more just about positive ways to live your life. So that is why they are all around central tennents like karma… doing good things comes around. That is a huge thing for Hinduism. There are a lot of other stories. There are books. The ramayan is all about rama, but there are a lot of gods in Hinduism. There is another book that is about a lot of them. It is called the mahabaharta. That is the story of ginesh, who is our elephant god. There are a lot of stories in it, but one of the stories that is the most important is talking about ginesh and how he is with his parents and basically the reason why in Hinduism your parents are so important is because someone told ginesh “circle around your world twice.” And what he did was walk around his parents twice because your parents are supposed to be your world. There are just a lot of loyalty stories like that. There is another story, that is called the gita, I think that is g-i-t-a. bhavagad gita. People chant that.

Me: what do you mean they chant it?

Informant: there are a lot of verses to it and sometimes when you pray, some people have whole chapters memorized and they will say them. But that is a very long story. That story is about a normal human guy named arjun. He is in a war. It is a war between 2 families. He is on one side and all of his brothers are on the other side. And he doesn’t know whether he should or shouldn’t fight against his family. He doesn’t know what to do. So he is visited by a god named krishna, who is one of the gods that is always depicted as blue. And the god coaches him and talks him through what he should do. And that is basically the whole gita. It is another story about loyalty and karma. Those are the main things of Hinduism which is again why I like it. It is really not an intrusive religion. It is very spiritual, like these are some good things that you should keep with you as you live your life. It is a pretty chill religion.

Me: Where did you learn all of this?

Informant: Sunday School. When I started to go to Sunday school in kindergarden, it was held out of a temple because it was very few people. But then it expanded and all of these indian people came out of no where. Then there was like hundreds of kids so we started having it at an actual elementary school because we needed to have classrooms. It totally expanded… because you know indian people run the world. It got crazy. We had a website, they published a text book for us. We got sweatpants and sweatshirts. It went crazy.  There are a lot of kids who already know everything because their parents teach it to them, obviously my parents know it too. My grandparents reallyyyyy know this stucf because older generations know it more. My parents wanted me to go to Sunday school because they wanted me to make some indian friends. It wasn’t really about learning hindi. My Sunday school we had language class and we had culture class. The culture class was where we learned all of this religious stuff. Or culture stuff. We talked about the differences between americans and Indians and all that kind of stuff. And hindi class, like language class, is specifically where you just learn hinidi or gidrathi. Hinidi is the language my mom’s side of the family speaks and gidrathi is the langage my dad’s side of the family speaks. They’re from 2 different parts of india. We just learned hindi because I think hindi is the national language of india so my parents were just like, ehh. My mom is very fluent in hindi, she is a hindi teacher so they were like, just learn hindi. So that is what we learned. That is all hindu stuff. As far as indian cultural stuff goes… but then again at the same time, if we are going to talk about weddings as being an indian thing. At the same time, there are a lot of different religions within India. They all have different wedding. Muslim weddings are way different than hindu weddings. And so I guess this is still hindu, but the whole idea is like, everything is still really loud and fun and colorful. Brides wear red, you know that. They always wear a sari. We put… in English it is henna… in hindi it is mehndi. I wish I knew the significance of it. I honestly think it is just a really beautiful art form. I am sure there is a story or a reason why we put it on, but I think it is just another way to make you look really beautiful. It goes on your hands, your feet, sometimes up your arm to your elbow at least. So the bride gets the most intricate mendhi, and everyone else in the bridal party gets both of their hands done. They make weddings really colorful because it is such a happy event. White is actually a sad color. So at funerals, when we have them, everyone wears white. No one wears black. Black is never worn to anything. And also, we don’t really have funerals. People don’t really get buried. We have cremations. Hindus believe in reincarnation. So if you are burned than your ashes go up and you can come back as something nice if you did good things in your life.

Me: Do you know why white is sad? Because that is the opposite of American culture

Nayna: I think it is because how people see white as pure and clean, that is our thing. So white is pure and cleansing so you wear that just to celebrate because when you creamate someone that is their purest form. You are burning them. I think that is why white is a nice color like that. Because black is just like never touched. We never wear black to anything. I don’t think white is really a sad color actually, it is really just a very full circle, ending color. Everything else, happy events, everything is always colorful. Weddings are always super colorful. Colors are hugely symbolic in the hindu culture. Holi is huge. You make these things called remgolis and they are basically big pieces of art and they are all different shapes and you color them in with the colored powder. Color is huge. Like indian women wear bindis on their foreheads when they wear their indian clothes. But also when religious ceremonies happen, you put a tikka on your head, but you use red powder and make a dash. That’s religious. Bindis are more for fun, to be pretty. More art and decoration for your body. There is a lot of hindu things. Boys, when they turn 11, 12, 13 or 16, some teenage year, they have something called a thread ceremony and only boys have it. It is like a right of passage, becoming an adult thing. It is a lot of prayers. You get threads tied around you as a bracelet and you keep it on for a while. We actually use a lot of thread in Hinduism. I think temples have what they think is holy thread. It is really just normal red thread. A little prettier. There is some red, some gold. We do a lot with thread. Another thing we do is, it is called rakshabandan. It is a brother sister day. Sisters tie a rakhi, it is like a bracelet, on their brother. It can just be a piece of red yarn or a thread. My sister and I like to make it fun, so we make a bracelet for our brother. So basically that is supposed to be protection for him. For all bad things that could come his way. So raksha means protection. Bandan means to tie. So literally tieing protection on your brother. And then your brother gives you like a present or something on that day. You feed him something sweet. You tie your rhaki, and he gives you a present. So it is like sisters protect brothers, brothers protect sisters, something like that. Oh by the way, I think I was supposed to tell you that like the bindi. The significance is that it is supposed to be like a third eye. So it is supposed to ward off evil. It is supposed to look over you. Red is really important. It used to be in the olden days that married women would put the same red power that you put here [touching space between eyes], they used to put it in their parts. In the part of their hairs. That is supposed to signify that you are married.

Me: Do you know why the part of their hair?

Informant: I guess it just so that you do not have to wear it on your forehead. It is very old. People do not walk around with that anymore. It used to be. Married women also tend to wear a red bindi. And widowed women wear a black bindi. My gradmother, when her husband passed ago, way before I was born, she always wears a black bindi on her forehead. Sorry… I keep talking!

Analysis: The informant does a lot of subtle analyzing of what she is saying as she goes.  She clearly takes a lot of traditions and myths with a grain of salt.  Rather than actually believe xyz, she believes in the moral behind it.  She already understands that reason why there are a lot of traditions and stories which makes my analysis much less needed.

Festival – India

My elementary school friend, Ridhi, is Hindu.  Her parents were born and raised in India.  Despite that Ridhi, was born in America she still is very involved in the Hindu culture, participating in all the festivals and traditions.  One of these traditions is Holi.  Holi, or the festival of colors, celebrates the coming of spring.

I actually remember her celebrating this holiday.  I remember because the next day Ridhi would come to school with paint all over her.  The night of the festival they first start a big fire that everyone gathers around.  Then all the friends and family get together and throw powdered color over themselves and each other.  They all wear white so they all end up full of color.

The throwing of the powder is supposed to represent play between the gods, Krishna and Radha.  This festival was popularized because Lord Krishna was famous for playing pranks on Radha.  Since Holi is the celebration of the coming of spring, it is the celebration of rebirth and starting over with a fresh start.  This is represented by first the buring of the old with the fire.  The fire essentially gets rid of all the old, and leaves behind ash, which will help new things grow.  Then they throw color all everywhere.  This throwing of the color could represent the throwing of seeds for planting.  They throw the seeds to make new things grow.  Lastly, the fact that the powder is brightly colored is important.  The bright color represents the fresh new things that will grow.