Hindu Holy Days – The Ancient Indian Festival of Holi. Also known as The Festival of Love, The Festival of Colors and The Festival of Spring.
The Holi festival is mentioned briefly under the Hindu Holy Days section of our textbook (Religions of the World (ROTW), p. 84) and the first photo in this week’s Clement’s Brain (additional resources written by instructor of the my World Religions course) appears to be taken during the celebration of this festival.
Holi is a very popular festival. It is celebrated in February/March. It celebrates the end of winter and welcomes the arrival of spring, and the blossoming of love. It is a time of forgiveness, to forgive and forget, yourself and others. It is a time to celebrate and have fun, meet new people, visit old friends, and create new beginnings. (1, 2, & 3)
“Holi is dedicated to the god Krishna, and . . . once was a fertility ceremony. It “also celebrates the destruction of demons.” (ROTW, p. 84)
So, what are the origins of the name of the festival Holi? It is “derived from Holika, the sister of demon King Hiranyakashyap” (4) and aunt of Prahlad. She was a demoness who was burnt to death.
The Hindu legend of Demoness Holika, her brother the Demon King Hiranyakashyap, and her nephew Prahlad:
“Demon King Hiranyakashyap was an enemy of Lord Vishnu, but his son Prahlad was an ardent Lord Vishnu devotee. Hiranyakashipu didn’t approve of his son’s devotion to Lord Vishnu and planned to kill Prahlad with the help of his sister Holika. Demoness Holika has a shawl gifted by Lord Brahma that protected her from the fire. Holika lured Prahlad to sit with her in a huge bonfire. But as the fire lit, Prahlad prayed to Lord Vishnu to keep him safe. So Lord Vishnu summoned a gust of wind to blow the shawl off of Holika and onto Prahlad, saving him from the flames of the bonfire and burning Holika to her death.” (5)
This story of Holika’s death (Holika Dahan) symbolizes good over evil.
The first day of the festival is celebrated as Holika Dahan when people gather and start a bonfire. The Holika bonfire is a place where people gather around the pyre to perform religious rituals and Holika prayers (Holika puja), sing, dance, or just watch the fire and eat and talk with friends. On top of the pyre is a likeness of the Demoness Holika who tricked Prahalad into the fire. It is believed that Holika prayers give prosperity and power and ward off fear. (4 & 5)
The second day of the festival is why it’s called the Festival of Colors.
This is the day when people apply colors to themselves and to one another. It is a time to party and enjoy the festival. Traditional food delicacies are eaten and imbibement of cold beverages, including drinks made with bhang (marijuana). You will encounter on this day people playing drums and other instruments, singing, and dancing. As in the photo above, weddings are a joyful occasion that many couples opt to celebrate during the Festival of Love and Colors. It is a day to celebrate spring, love, and life with colors. “Colors of joy, prosperity, happiness, and peace.” (6)
It is a festival that is inclusive of all. People of all classes, castes, and religions come together.
Holi is also sometimes known as the Festival of Reversals, because it is a time where people from the lower castes can engage freely with and even tease those of the higher castes. (7)
“. . . caste and taboo restrictions are set aside and pleasure is emphasized.” (ROTW, p. 84)
The above mandala is not from a celebration of Holi, but it does show a meshing of religions in the imagery. “The origins of “this too shall pass” are unknown. Some trace the phrase back to Persian Sufi poets, while others credit King Solomon, although it is not recorded in any of his biblical works.” (11)
According to Rabbi Lisa Rubin (Director of the Center for Exploring Judaism), “King Solomon was trying to humble his wisest servant, so he asked him to perform a seemingly impossible task: to find something that did not exist. He requested a magic ring — one that, if a sad man wore it, he would become happy and if a happy man wore it, he would become sad.” The story suggests that the servant could not find anything of such nature. So, King Solomon decided upon himself to go to a jeweler and design a ring with the inscription in Hebrew saying, “Gam ze ya’avor,” which means, “This, too, shall pass.” (13)
And certainly the verses of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 where there are purpose and season for all things under heaven could be said is saying everything shall pass. “All things have time, and all things under [the] sun pass by their spaces. (Everything hath a time, and all things pass forth in their places under the sun.)” (WYC)
These artists in Denmark that created this and many more mandalas have included the words “This to shall pass” which for them is in relation to the 5 hours spent to create each work of art and it’s temporary nature. One of their mantras is “this too shall pass.” “. . . remembering this, we like the idea that every mandala has a finite lifecycle depending on the weather.” (10)
Many believe the inclusion of those of other faiths in the celebration of Holi is of importance to all. Muslims and Christians often celebrate Holi together with Hindus, Buddhists, and those of other faiths. (8) The Christian Indian churches have found new meaning in the festival.
“Holi has great significance for Christians, as the Church is increasingly concerned about the integrity of creation. By absorbing Holi into the Christian festival calendar as the feast of creation, the Church in India can impart faith education on man´s ecological obligations,” says Jesuit theologian Fr. AMA Samy (Arul Maria Arokiasamy) of New Delhi´s Vidyajyoti Institute of Religious Studies. He also stated, “Christians should adopt more Indian traditions to counter the charge by Hindu fundamentalists that Christianity and Indian culture are incompatible.” (7)
The absorbing of festivals, holy days, and holy sites is not new within the Christian faith. This happened in Ireland, and the Mexican Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) comes to mind as well. They are just a few of the countless examples where the church has intermingled local customs, beliefs, holy days, and holy sites with Christian beliefs.
Fr. George Gispert-Sauch, another Jesuit priest who is an Indologist and was a professor at Vidyajyoti, believes “Holi resembles Easter in spirit and the Western Carnival in observance. The passage from death to life in Holi is similar to Christ’s death and resurrection.” (7)
I am in agreement with the purpose and actions of Ecumenism and interfaith harmony. “The goals of interreligious or interfaith relations are mutual understanding and respect, with collaboration in meeting the challenges we commonly face in the society and world in which we live.” (12)
According to a recent Pew Research Survey, a large number of Indian Christians follow practices and beliefs not traditionally associated with Christianity, including Karma, reincarnation, and the purifying powers of holy river Ganga. Many Indian Christians also celebrate and participate in Hindu holy days including Holi and Diwali. And you will often encounter Christian women in India sporting the ‘bindi’ on their forehead, which is more associated with Hindus, Buddhists, and Jainists. (9)
☆ This blog entry is from one of the week two assignments in my World Religions course at Phillips Seminary. ☆
1. Jain, Richa. What is Holi, And Why is It Celebrated? ASIA / INDIA / GUIDES & TIPS. culture travel: Book Good – Travel Good – Feel Good. 29 March 2018.
2. Ebeling, Karin (2010), Holi, a Hindu Festival, and its Reflection in English Media; The Order of the Standard and the Differentiation of Discourses: Files of the 41st Linguistic Colloquium in Mannheim. 2006, 1, 107
3. Wendy Doniger (Editor), Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions, 2000, Merriam-Webster, p. 455
4. KUMAR, RAJENDRA. 10 Amazing Facts About Holi the Indian Festival of Colors. INDIAN CULTURE. INDIAN YUG.COM. 25 March 2021.
5. TOI Online. Holika Dahan Story: Why is the demoness Holika worshipped on Holi? Religion. THE TIMES OF INDIA. 27 March 2021.
6. Festival of Colors – Holi. sensationalcolor.com.
7. UCAnews (Union of Catholic Asian News). HOLI FESTIVAL OF COLOR HAS ´SIGNIFICANCE´ FOR CHRISTIANS. 27 February 1991.
8. THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE (Partnered with The International New York Times). Coloured up: Muslims and Christians join Holi celebrations. 17 March 2014.
9. Swarajya Staff. Many Indian Christians Follow Hindu Beliefs Including Karma, Reincarnation And Ganga’s Purifying Powers: Pew Survey. #SWARAJJYA Magazine. 12 July 2021.
10. Anderson, Mie Buch. Female Artists Creates Improvised Chalk Mandalas In The Streets Of Copenhagen boredpanda.com. Bored Panda – art and pop culture magazine. 27 April 2019.
11. Got Questions – Your Questions – Biblical Answers. Is “this too shall pass” found in the Bible? Got Questions Ministries.
12. Ryan, Tom. Ecumenism and Interfaith Harmony: What’s the Difference? | National Catholic Reporter (ncronline.org). National Catholic Reporter. 30 January 2016.
13. Mashburn, Rebecca. Is the Phrase, ‘This Too Shall Pass’ in the Bible? Christianity.com. 22 November 2019
Additional Links (that I found enlightening or informative):
Khatri, Tek Bahadur. Bindi and Tilak – A Biblical Response. The Khatri Parivaar. Together in HIS Service Since 2010 (Joshua 24:15) – a cross-cultural (Pracharak) Evangelist through Indian Evangelical Mission (IEM). 19 February 2018.
Gajiwala, Astrid Lobo. Bindis and Baptism (patheos.com) – interfaith marriage. Patheos.com. 27 April 2010.
To view more of the awesomely beautiful mandalas by artist Mie Buch Andersen, check out her Instagram here: Rikke & Mie (@streetmandalas_copenhagen) • Instagram photos and videos
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