Have you heard of Holi? The Hindu festival of color? The night of bonfires? The nationwide water fight? Read on for a primer on Hinduism’s extravagant springtime festival.
It’s About Good vs. Evil!
Like most holidays, there is a story behind the celebration. In this holiday’s tale, the villain is played by a powerful demon king. So great was his pride, this king proclaimed himself a god and forbade the worship of anyone else. No one dared defy his edict except for one young boy, the king’s own son, Prahlad!
Outraged, the king tortured his son violently, but the boy would not abandon his prayers to the god Vishnu. Eventually, the king, filled with murderous rage, asked his sister, Holika, to sit on a pyre with Prahlad in her lap. Believing herself to be immune to the fire, she took the boy and sat within the flames. However, true to the classic theme of good triumphing over evil, the demon aunt was reduced to ashes, and the courageous boy was preserved through his devotion and faith.
It’s About Springtime!
Holi is held on the first full moon of the spring season. It symbolizes the darkness of winter being replaced by the warmth, light and color of spring. Originally a harvest festival, Holi is a celebration of gratitude. It’s a time when friends and family let go of grudges, and make way for love and goodwill.
It’s About Community!
As Holi approaches, communities competitively gather wood and brush for massive public bonfires that will be lit in the middle of streets and in public squares as the moon rises on the first evening of the festival. The fire represents the pyre on which Holika burned and Prahlad was saved. True to the legend, beneath the tinder is a boy made of clay, waiting for divine rescue from the flames. A more flammable effigy of his aunt is sometimes included in the fire as well.
Once the fire is ignited, the men circle the flames, offering sugar cane and grain, symbolic of their gratitude for a good harvest. Next come women, breaking coconuts and adding own offerings. As the flames purify the air, sweets and special drinks are shared in celebration of community and goodwill.
It’s About Fun!
Holi celebrates the Hindu god Krishna with another colorful story. When Krishna, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, was young, he complained to his mother about his own dark blue complexion compared with the fair skin of his beloved Radha. His mother helpfully advised him to change Radha’s complexion with a liberal application of color. Thus began the explosive play of colorful powder that marks Holi celebrations each year.
Even the most respectable members of society join in to rain down frivolity on family, friends and innocent passerby. Layers of color on faces and clothes obscure the distinctions between caste, gender and age. Armed with water guns, colored water and powdered pigments, children and adults alike join in the revelry with reckless abandon. Hindu culture’s strict social norms bow to the general spirit of mirth and play. No one is immune to the powdered “gulal” that stains the skin and delights spirits across South Asia in a sub-continental water fight.
As the dust settles, quite literally, from the colorful display of revelry in the morning, everyone will bathe, dress up and spend the evening visiting friends and family.
It’s About Opportunity!
The loosening of social rules and focus on relationships and sharing provides unique opportunities for believers to speak openly with their neighbors about their faith. Stories and traditions provide colorful bridges to share truth with those practicing Hinduism.
Christ doesn’t accept or deny a person based on caste or social level, or even their own devotion and righteous works. All come to Him wearing the deep stain of sin on their hearts. That stain condemns its bearer to an eternity of fiery judgment. But there is a path of escape! There is One who rescues. There is cleansing from that fatal stain for all those who follow Jesus in faith. Through His death and resurrection, there is forgiveness, restoration and vibrant life. And by adoption, all who come to Him will be welcomed as God’s own beloved children. This is truly a story of transformation!
How can I get involved?
- Ask God to give believers and Christar workers in South Asian communities boldness and opportunities to speak of eternal deliverance, not through piety and devotion, but because of the sacrificial death of Jesus.
- Pray that communities throughout South Asia will experience true transformation that honors Christ.
- Ask that truth will be communicated widely and creatively during Holi as social norms are loosened.
- Pray that a vast harvest of new believers will worship Jesus, the One worthy of all praise!