Holi, is an ancient Hindu festival which is celebrated with colours. Its origin could be traced back to the Puranas and has three different tales associated with it.
The Story of Holika and Prahlada
King Hiranyakashipu had a son called Prahlada, who was a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu considered himself the lord of the universe and saw Vishnu as his arch enemy. Since he could not deter his own son from his devotion to Vishnu, he decided to kill him.
He came up with a plan to end his own son’s life. His sister Holika had a special ability to enter fire and come out unscathed. She was sent for and asked to place Prahlada on her lap and and enter the fire. To her utter shock, the fire burnt her and not Prahlada. She’d forgotten the clause that her power could be exercised only when she entered the fire alone. Prahlada, who was chanting the name of Lord Narayana all the while, came out unharmed.
Since this occasion marks the victory of good over evil, i.e., Prahlada over Holika, it’s celebrated as a festival. This story explains the etymological origin of the festival’s name. But why is it celebrated with colours? Here’s another story that explains it.
The Story of Krishna and Radha
Krishna, literally means ‘black’. When he was a child, a demon called Putana tried to kill him by feeding him poisoned breast-milk. Even though she wasn’t successful in killing him, the poison made Krishna’s body black in colour.
Years rolled on and Krishna was a charming youth. But he was worried about whether the fair-skinned Radha and other Gopis would befriend, him for he was dark in complexion. To end her son’s despair, Krishna’s mother asked him to approach Radha and ask her to colour his face with any colour she liked. This episode resulted in Radha and Krishna becoming a couple to be cherished ever after.
This story lends itself partly to the legend of Holi, explaining the use of colours in celebration.
The third story is that of Lord Shiva.
The Story of Shiva and Kama
One day, Lord Shiva was in deep meditation. Goddess Parvati wanted to bring him back to the world, for there was a demon called Tarakasura who could be killed out of a son born out of Shiva and Parvati. To bring Shiva back from the state of Samadhi, she seeks the help of the God of Love, Kamadeva, on the day of Vasantha Panchami. He is regarded as the heavenly god of love who kindles passion and love among those struck by His cosmic arrow. Taking aim at Shiva, Kamadeva shoots his arrow. Shiva opens his third eye and it burns Kamadeva into ashes.
Deeply hurt by the turn of events, Kamadeva’s widow decides to perform a 40-day long penance. By the time the penance was complete, Shiva understands the reason behind Kamadeva’s action, and out of compasion and unbound mercy, Shiva restores him back to life.
Thus, the 40th day after Vasantha Panchami (the Holi day) came to be cherished as a festive day. Thus this story also lends itself to the legend of Holi.