Holi is popular in India for its bonfires and colourful festivities. Whilst the story behind it is rather dark, it still brings some valuable lessons with it. Here’s what happened:
A demon called Hiranyakashyap, in his bid to establish himself as the supreme self, sought immortality. He knew a penance for Brahma, the creator of the universe, would lead to a boon. The effort paid off as Brahma appeared. Though impressed, Brahma denied immortality stating that no boon could stand against the cycle of life and death. Hiranyakashyap, shrewd that he was, requested an alternative boon. He set five conditions for his death: 1. that death doesn’t strike him during the day or the night, 2. that no weapon should be able kill him, 3. that no god, human or animal be able to kill him, 4. that he dies neither inside the house nor outside and 5. that he dies neither on the ground nor in the sky. Hiranyakashyap smiled as the boon was granted. Convinced that he’s almost immortal, Hiranyakashyap went berserk expecting people to worship him as almighty! Those who didn’t, met fatal punishments. Hiranyakashyap’s sister Holika too attained a boon from Brahma making her immune to fire. The brother-sister duo thought they had got it all!
While the world shivered, Hiranyakashyap’s nemesis was nowhere but in his own house. His son Prahalad was a devotee of Vishnu, the preserver of the universe and didn’t accept his father as almighty. When all attempts to get Vishnu out of Prahalad’s mind failed, Hiranyakashyap decided to get Prahalad killed. Divine intervention from Vishnu invariably saved Prahalad’s life. Hiranyakashyap was left miffed when Holika reminded him about her boon. She asked him to arrange for a pyre, on which she would step in along with Prahalad. This time, things didn’t work as planned. Holika got charred to death. Like always, Vishnu’s magic saved Prahalad. In a debate that ensued, a frustrated Hiranyakashyap quizzed Prahalad on Vishnu’s whereabouts. Highlighting Vishnu’s omnipresence, Prahalad pointed to a pillar in the room, stating that Vishnu dwells in that pillar too. Hiranyakashyap knocks the pillar down with his mace. The room illuminates as a unique creature appears from the pillar. A human body with a lion’s head. The creature drags Hiranyakashyap to the main door of the house, puts him on his thighs and tears open his stomach with its claws. It was twilight. The creature was Narsimha, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu.
And here are some key lessons from the story:
1. Absolute power does corrupt absolutely: Hiranyakashyap’s five conditions worked well to start with and made him almost immortal. With no imminent danger in sight, he ruthlessly went about enforcing himself the supreme godhead of the world.
2. You’re smart only till someone outsmarts you: Vishnu circumvented each of the clauses smartly put by Hiranyakashyap and killed him without nullifying Brahma’s boon. Boons, if not handled well, become banes.
3. Miss the fine print and feel the heat: Holika, in her attempt to eliminate Prahalad, forgot the one condition that came with the boon. She was immune to fire if she and she alone encountered it. Here, she had Prahalad with her. Boons do backfire!
While you have a colourful Holi year on year, ensure you don’t wash off the lessons it offers.