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Trial by Fire: The legend of Prahlad

Many, many years ago, there lived an evil, demonic king by the name of Hiranyakashyapu. To quench his thirst for power and in an attempt to become invincible, Hiranyakashyapu prayed long and hard, and did severe penance until Lord Brahma appeared before him. Hiranyakashyapu requested to be made immortal, but Lord Brahma said he would be unable to grant him that wish, and requested Hiranyakashyapu to ask for anything else. Hiranyakashyapu then requested that the following wishes be granted: 

  • He would not be killed by man, God or beast.
  • He would not be killed during the day or at night.
  • He would not be killed indoors or outdoors.
  • He would not be killed by any astra (weapon), man-made or god-made.
  • He would not be killed on the sea, in the air or on land. 
Once these wishes were granted, Hiranyakashyapu believed himself to be invincible and all-powerful, more powerful than any God. He thus banned his subjects from worshipping any God, and demanded that they worship him instead. He terrorized the earth and the heavens and generally made a nuisance of himself! He vanquished even Lord Indira, and set himself up as the ruler of the heavens, the earth and the netherworld. 

While all the subjects bowed down to the demands of their power-crazed ruler, Hiranyakashyapu's son, Prahlad, refused to pray to anyone other than Lord Vishnu. Despite Hiranyakashyapu's commands and pleadings, Prahlad continued to worship Vishnu with ardent devotion. This enraged the King, who then commanded that Prahlad be put to death. However, all attempts to slay Prahlad, which included flinging him in a snake pit and throwing him off a cliff, failed. Prahlad would simply chant Lord Vishnu's name, and would emerge unscathed. 

Finally Hiranyakashyapu approached his sister Holika, and together they devised a way to end Prahlad's life once and for all. Holika possessed a divine cloth, which rendered her immune to fire upon draping it. So the plan was that Holika would hold Prahlad on her lap, and together they would sit in the centre of a huge bonfire. Holika would wrap the cloth around herself and would be saved, while Prahlad would perish. However, when the fire was lit, a huge gust of wind blew the divine cloth from around Holika's shoulders, and onto Prahlad's shoulders, who was sitting surrounded by flames, chanting the name of Lord Vishnu. Holika was reduced to ashes, while Prahlad had not a burn on his body. Thus good triumphed over evil, and it is this sentiment that we celebrate on Holi. Often, a bonfire is lit the night before Holi, and the next day Holi is celebrated by throwing colours on each other. 

Hiranyakashyapu was ultimately killed by Narsimha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Narsimha was a half-man, half-lion, (neither man, nor beast) who broke out of a pillar in the palace at twilight (neither morning nor night), dragged Hiranyakashyapu to the threshold (neither indoors nor outdoors), lay him on his lap (neither on earth, nor in the sky), and killed him by ripping his chest apart with his claws (not a weapon).

Why do we celebrate Holi with colour?

There is yet another legend to explain the emergence of Holi as a festival of colour. At the start of spring, Lord Krishna would often throw colour and water on the gopis (milkmaids). Various ancient painting depict Krishna playing Holi with the gopis and Radha. This festival is also a celebration of Krishna and Radha's divine love (which never did culminate in marriage!).

Also read:  Dos and Don'ts of Holi
                Holi Recipes

Send:          Holi E-cards

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