Holika Dahan: the day before Holi, called Chhoti Holi (meaning little Holi), pyres of wood and cow dung are burned by light of the full moon. Late in the evening, we stole out from the house into the city to roast wheat on a staff (the Bali) over one of the pyres. Afterward, it was brought home where we ate some of the roasted grains.
Holika was a demoness in Hindu scriptures. Her brother, King Hiranyakashipu, believed himself to be a god. Their nephew, Prahlad, was devoted to Vishnu and would not worship him. Holika devised a scheme to burn him alive by sitting on a pyre with him while wrapped in her flame-proof cloak, but Vishnu protected Prahlad when the moment came. Her cloak blew from her onto Prahlad and he was spared. Burning the Holika Dahan is now a symbol of the triumph of good over evil.
I am strongly reminded of Fasching around this same time. When I was living in Germany, each year when Carnival was celebrated elsewhere, many parts of Germany (especially near where I lived in the southern edge of Rhineland-Pfalz) still celebrate Fasching where people dress up (traditionally kind of as monsters, but now in lots of other costuming) and chase away winter.
It’s no accident that this is when Easter is celebrated too since early Christians wanted to merge their beliefs with the old traditions and so celebrated the resurrection when they were already planning to have big “Buh-bye winter, you cruel jerk” fests.
Today, is Holi! This afternoon, we got dressed in old clothes and went out to the garden where lunch was laid and colors were sitting out to celebrate. As we walked into the garden, everyone was greeted with “Happy Holi” and a smear of powdered colors across the face. It was all a bit calm and sweet for a little while as people wiped handfuls of colors on one another.
And then the liquid colors came into play….
Apparently, the colors originally may have been added because of their healing properties as spring colds came on after the long winter. The liquid colors are boiled for hours (here, it was nearly all night). The ones we used today were made from dried flowers and ooooh, my goodness do my skin and hair feel soft after a couple of good soakings! Even as everyone was smearing colors and drenching each other, they kept saying to me how healing the liquid color was.
I loved Holi. How fun it will be to come back and celebrate it with my sister’s kids in a few years when they’re old enough to wield squirt guns filled with color!