PHAALGUN POORNIMA FESTIVALS
(I-DISCOURSE BY N. R. SRINIVASAN, MARCH 2012)
KAAMA DAHANA AND HIS RESURRECTION
Legend has it that Shiva deep in meditation, became indifferent to love and thus all procreation stopped. Devas in anxiety approached Kama (deity of love), who fired an arrow of love, at Shiva. Shiva with his meditation disturbed opened his third eye on his forehead and struck down Kaama into a heap of ashes. Rati, Kaamas's wife performed severe penance. Shiva promised her that Kaama would return to her and will also resume the spread of love and procreation. He would however be formless
or "Ananga" to all but her. On this day, the reunification of Kaama with Rati is celebrated.
Though resurrected, Madana remained invisible to the world. The world rediscovered the delightful role of Madana in its purest form in Krishna as Mohana. After Krishna's departure from the mortal world, which Gopis lamented, he did not turn away from them to discard them; he made himself available to Gopis as the cosmic beloved enchanting them with all the music of love. He created a new pleasure garden in Vaikuntha called Go-loka which Puranas hail. Rati-
kreeda which Madana used to enjoy with his beloved Rati, got elevated to Rasa-leela, the dance of the union of the Jeevaatma with the Divine. Bhukti, the unrestrained pleasures of Madana transcended to Bhakti, the ecstatic love to Krishna. This is the message given by Krishna-Consciousness of Chaitanya.
The festival of Holi in North India ushers in the pleasant season of spring. Burning of Kaama, the celestial deity and his resurrection is celebrated in the South at the same time with bonfire in the night to herald the ending of winter.
"Kleem Kaamadevaaya vidmahe pushpa-baanaaya dheemahi tannoe anangah praccoedayaat"
Narada the trotter of three worlds (triloka sanchari) once visited the earth and witnessed the great misery. Unable to find a remedy to human sufferings, he approached Lord Narayana and related to him the sad state of affairs on earth. Lord Narayana asked Narada to advise people on earth to observe Satyanarayana Vrata on Sankranti or Poornima day and hear the story of Satyanarayana. Then all miseries would come to an end. Thereupon Rishi Narada returned to earth and preached the glory of Satyanarayana Vrata. Many observed the vrata without taking any food during the course of the day (when sun light was on) and attained what they desired. All were happy and prosperous. The Vrata (vow) is generally observed on all full moon days, like Pradosha on Trayodasi day for Lord Shiva and Ekaadasi fast on Ekaadasi day for Maha Vishnu by married couple. Phalgun Poornima marks the end of the year for this vrata. Some observe this vrata on Chaitra Poornima, Vaisaaka Poornima, Kartika Poornima, Sravana Poornima, and Makara Sankranti only. There are several legends connected to this vrata. They all speak of the glory of Lord Narayana and His grace. His prasaad (blessed food) and its importance are of incalculable benefit deriving from observing this vrata with devotion and listening to the story (katha sravana) with rapt attention. Observance of this vrata is simple and inexpensive. To hear the different legends one may read the actual Satyanarayana Katha, available in many languages of India.
Phalgun Poornima is an important day for all those who observe Satya Narayana Vrata. This comes at the end of Shishira-ritu (Phalgun-- February March), which marks the end of
the cold season.
Holi falls on the Full Moon day in the month of Phalgun, and is considered the most colorful festival of the Hindus. It is popularly known as a festival of colors. On the eve of Holi, huge bonfires are lit with logs of wood, dried cow dung cakes, ghee, honey and the new crops brought from the fields. Women prepare delicious sweets and put it in the bonfire as "Naivedya" (offering) to the "Agnidevata" the celestial deity, Fire. The ash from the extinguished fire is applied on the forehead by everyone. The ash is preserved at homes all through the year and used as an effective remedy against impending evil. Holi is celebrated the next day known as "Dhuleti" with great gaiety, with dancing, singing, and merriment. Different color powders are smeared on the face of relatives, friends and strangers alike. Colored water is also squirted on friends and passersby. Hindus mix freely with each other, greet each other, and hug each other with love and affection, with no distinction of caste creed social status, sex or age. The holy enthusiasts visit each other's houses and pick up the crowd which swells in number as the day proceeds. When the crowd visits the houses, sweets, fruits as well as vegetable (carrot) juices are offered by the host, welcoming the guests with warmth and affection. The color throwing stops in the afternoon culminating in a holy bath.
Holi celebration officially ushers in the pleasant season of spring, bidding good bye to the harsh winter. It is also celebrated as a harvest festival. Holi means to farmers, joyful celebration of the new harvest, bubbling with joy and excitement. At the prospect of prosperity, they offer their first crop to the Agni devata, who is looked upon with love and esteem. After this only the crop is used for personal consumption. In ancient days Holi was celebrated as "Vasantotsavam" acclaiming it as a spring festival. It finds an honored mention in ancient Sanskrit texts like Dasakumara charita and Garuda Purana. Poet Kaliadasa calls it "Madanotsava". A delightful description of this festival finds place in "Ratnaavali" by Harshadeva. It is thus an ancient festival. The origin of this festival, vary in mythology, in different parts of the country. In South India, Holi is known as Kaamavilasa, Kaamana Habba, and Kaama dahanam, which story has been described above.
In Central and North India, Holi festival is associated with the death of the demoness Holika. The demon King Hiranyakasipu, fortified by the boons granted by Brahma, was very proud and powerful and wanted to be worshipped as God. His son Prahlaada, a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu refused to do so. The king wanted to kill the stubborn Prahlaada, sent his sister, Holika who possessed the boon of never being burnt by fire. Young Prahlaada was made to sit on his aunt's lap. A bonfire was lit with Prahalada and Holika in the center. To the disappointment of Hiranyakasipu, Holika was burnt to ashes, while Prahlaada was spared by the fire, by the grace of Vishnu. The bonfire lit and the burning of the effigy of Holika during Holi, symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, humility over haughtiness and power of prayer over physical strength.
The Holi festival is celebrated with songs, music, plays and throwing of colors in places like Mathura and Vrindaavan where Krishna's thoughts haunts and flourishes to date. Holi celebration begins with Phalgun Poornima and continue for a month in Mathura, Nandagaon and Barsna (the birth place of Krishna's beloved Radha). Raasakreeda and Raasaleela celebrations, remind us of the Bhakti in the form of divine love of Radha, his eight royal wives (Rukmini, Satyabhama, Jambavati, Kalindi, Mitravinda, Satya, Bhadra, and Lakshamana), 16000 wives (redeemed damsels, from Narakasura who insisted on marrying Krishna) and the gopikas. In reality these 16000 wives were the celestial associates of Vishnu and Lakshmi, who could not bear separation from Krishna even for a short while.
Kamsa sent his sister Pootana, to kill infant Krishna. She breast fed him with her poisoned milk but Krishna sucked her breasts, bleeding her to death, on this day. Hence on the previous evening of Holi, bonfires are lit to celebrate the victory of Krisnha over Pootana.
In Bengal this festival is known by the name "Dol Jatra" or "Dol Purnima". On this day the idol of Mahaprabhu Chaitanya is placed in a picturesque palanquin and taken around the main streets of the city. The head of the Bengali family observes fast and prays to Lord Krishna and Agni devata. After all the traditions and rituals are over, he smears the Krishna idol with gulal (kumkum), and offers "bhog" to both Krishna and Agni devata. Holi is celebrated with music and dance at Shantiniketan of Rabindranath Tagore by students dressed in saffron colored clothes and flower garlands, smearing dry gulal powder and auspicious black abhir on the forehead.
Also, the Sikh community celebrates Holi with feasting and merriment. They call it "Hola Mohalla".
In Maharastra Holi is commonly called by the name "Shinga", and "Rangapanchami". The fisher folk celebrate it on a large scale with hilarious singing, dancing and merry making paying tribute to Samudra-raja, the sea god.
The festival of Holi is a myriad of colors, of gaiety, of friendship and family reunions. One experiences a thrilling sense of happiness in the midst of everyday life problems. It is a festival welcoming Madana, the Lord of Pleasure, who is the son of Lakshmi and Vishnu. This festival was the most favorite of Radha and Krishna. Devotees who throw colors on their loved ones remember through song and dance the pranks of Krishna and the complaints of Radha. Lord Krishna said in Bhagavadgeetaa among demons I am Prahlaada. On the eve of Holi great bonfires are lit to mark the death of the demoness Holika who got burnt herself when she tried to burn Prahlaada, the greatest devotee of Vishnu, who appeared in the form of Narasimha. Lord Krishna also said in Bhagavadgeetaa amongst lovers I am Madana. Though Kaama was burnt down due to the fury of Siva world could not go without him. He was soon restored as Madana. Madana revealed the possibilities of life—its beauty and bliss. The immediate beneficiary was Siva himself. On the icy peaks of Kailasa, as Siva rediscovered love Madana was born. He was happily wedded to Parvati so that both could function as the parents of the world (Jagatah pitarau vande). We therefore hear the twang of his bow across the cosmos to this day and forever. While bemoaning his death previous night we soon rejoice his birth the next day with added vigor by the grace of Lord Siva himself. That is a full Moon Night! Lord Krishna has himself turned to Mohana to attract all Jeevatamans to him to join him in the Divine dance on this amorous full moon night.
Maasi Magham falls on Phalgun Poornima coinciding with the Asterism Magham in the Tamil moth of Maasi. This is an auspicious day for sacred bath in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Idols of Siva and Vishnu are taken to the sea and given a holy dip while devotees also take bath. This festival is celebrated on a grand scale in Siva temple in Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. Milk pudding (payasam) is offered to moon God in the night to attain good health and long life to children.
Where there are no holy rivers it is customary to invoke holy waters and then take a dip in any sea, lake, tank, pond, or rivulet. In America people can use their own swimming pools. The customary sloka for holy dip is as follows:
"Gange cha Yamune chaiva Godaavari Saraswati |
Narmade Sindhu Kaaveri jale-asmin sannidhim kuru ||
The Vedic Mantra from MNU runs as follows:
"Imam Gange Yamune Saraswati Sutudristoma(ga)m sachataa Purushniyaa |
Asikniyaa Marud-Vridhe Vitastya-Aarjakeeye srinuhyaa Sushomayaa ||