Mystical tales Children

All-consuming flames

Illustration: Sreejith R.Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R.Kumar   | Photo Credit: Illustration: Sreejith R.Kumar

Hiranyakasipu was at his wit’s end. He could not stop his son from praising his arch enemy.

As we approach Holi, the festival of colours, let me tell you a legend about this celebration. Traditionally, Holi represents the arrival of spring with all its colours and fragrances.

The night before Holi is known as Holika Dahan and a great bonfire is lit. Let’s see why we do that.

Holika was the sister of the asura (demon) king Hiranyakasipu. When Hiranyakasipu was away meditating, the devas attacked his kingdom. His pregnant wife, Kayadhu, was saved by Sage Narada and taken to his ashram. Narada spent his time singing Lord Vishnu’s praises and the child in Kayadhu’s womb listened to his stories. Hiranyakasipu’s son was born a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Hiranyakasipu received his boon from Lord Brahma — that he could not be killed at day or night, in the house or outside, in the sky or on the ground, by the devas, humans, animals or weapons, living or non-living beings. He returned to win back his kingdom and become the greatest of all asura kings. He was delighted to find that Kayadhu had given birth to a boy and decided to name him Prahlada.

Irony abounds

Hiranyakasipu heard his son constantly chant Lord Vishnu’s name. The asura king hated the devas, especially Vishnu, who was responsible for killing his brother Hiranyaksha. He tried cajoling his son, then scolding him, but nothing worked. He sent Prahlada off to school, but the teacher complained that the boy was subverting others.

“What am I going to do with this boy?” he roared. Prahlada was oblivious to this fury.

Finally, Hiranyakasipu decided to put his son to death, for disobedience. So, he poisoned him. Prahlada drank it with a smile and continued to chant the Lord’s name. He was thrown before angry rogue elephants that walked over him carefully. He was locked up in a room with venomous snakes and again came out alive.

Hiranyakasipu was at his wits’ end. His sister Holika, who had a special boon (she was immune to fire) on hearing her brother’s travails suggested that Prahlada be seated on her lap amid a raging fire. Hiranyakasipu agreed.

The next day, a huge fire was built and Holika called Prahlada to “purify” himself in the flames. Though he understood what they wanted, Prahlada climbed onto Holika’s lap as she sat in the leaping tongues of fire.

But what was this? Prahlada sat in the fire untouched by the heat, but Holika began to scream and disintegrate. She was burnt to ashes and when the flames died out,

Prahlada walked out with no injury.

It is this event that Holika Dahan commemorates.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 4:44:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/all-consuming-flames/article30963263.ece

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