Did Hindu Holi Blazing Fire and Bizarre colors inspire Christianity and Color Run ?
(Compilation for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville., TN, April 2014)
Spring is celebrated as the King of Seasons. Spring is the beginning of new life free from extreme cold of winter and extreme heat of summer. This is the time of the year which is pleasant, brisk, and full of aroma and fragrance coming from sprouting buds and flowers. People all over the world celebrate spring. In Japan the Festival of Dolls is celebrated in the spring. In Thailand the spring is celebrated with the exchange of fragrant colored water. In England people dance in the meadows and green fields. In Bengal people wear yellow outfit and celebrate the spring with the worship of Saraswati. The yellow and saffron colors signify warmth and enlightenment, auspiciousness, maturity and spirituality. In this season open-air music meets take place in parks and green meadows. Bhagavadgeeta says the Supreme Being is Prahlaada among Rakshasas (demons)--Prahlaadah daityaanaam. Among Seasons He is Sprig Season-Ritoonam Kusumaakarah. It is the divine season. Holi festival is the most celebrated and colorful spring festival and Prahlada is the one glorified in Holi, symbolizing victory of the good over evil, pious over cruel. Hindu Festival of Lights, Festival of Colors and Festival of Dolls are all ancient in tradition and universal in appeal among all festivals of the world and even among these three Holi, Festival of colors leads the rest. They follow the wisdom of Hindu worships which are Universal in appeal with the motto “Vasudeiva Kurtumbakam”—whole world is one family; “Sarve janah sukhino bhavantu”—May all live happily; “Krinvanto viswamaarya”—Let us ennoble the whole world etc.
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 below.
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 even today. Holi celebration begins with Phalgun Poornima and continues 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 Maharashtra 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 demon Holika who got burnt herself when she tried to burn Prahlaada, the greatest devotee of Vishnu, who appeared in the form of Narasimha later to emancipate him from the tortures of his father Hiranyakasipu. 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 (souls) to him to join him in the Divine dance on this amorous full moon night.
Holi is celebrated differently in various traditions of Hindus in India. Holi is known by the name Kaamadahana in South India on which day Cupid was burnt by Lord Siva. In Holi as well as Kamdahana bonfire is lit. Religiously devoted Hindu believes those who love God shall be saved and they that torture the devotee of God shall be reduced to ashes. Kamraja was restored back to his life listening to the prayers of his beloved life Rati. Here again it shows that one cannot play pranks with Lord and that he is merciful and kind to his devotees. Holi means sacrifice. Therefore Holi reminds us that we should burn all the impurities of the mind such as ego, vanity, lust, etc., through the fire of devotion and knowledge.
Man needs relaxation and change after hard work. The harvest season is a festive season all over the world. Famer enjoys the results of his hard work and the divine grace that has blessed him with rich harvest. It is time for him to cheer up and revel with people around. Color throwing grows wild and everybody enjoys. Rich and poor, young and old men and woman friends and relative all participate with no consideration for caste creed or social status. All this external hilarity and customs produce the salient effect of bringing a sense of oneness among the people. Living in Uttar Pradesh I have seen even Muslims join the crowd enjoying the color throwing and nibbling at the sweets sometimes mixed with Bhang to make one intoxicated for a while and forget all worries though not the right way. The religious get intoxicated with Bhakti or devotion.
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. Bonfire derives its name from bone fire. Probably the burning of the bones of Kaamaraja gave the name bonfire. 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 to her. On this day, the reunification of Kaama with Rati is celebrated.
Though resurrected, Madana remained invisible to the world, expressing him as the spring season. 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.
The Bonfire and the blasting with colors during Holi are very impressive and eye catching and so Holi festival has become very popular wherever celebrated globally. It has crossed all the International boundaries removing all reservations—fun for all and healthy living for all. This festival has influenced many religious traditions all over the world and is popular even with American and various European cultures. It is worth looking at some of the bonfire traditions as well as social tradition of Color Run started very recently inspired by Holi in USA which has spread like wild fire in leaps and bounds. Color Run lights up wintery gray days. It is all about getting messy and having fun for a noble cause arousing Health Awareness in all and thinking of rising money for charity.
In Europe and elsewhere, several groups such as Holi Festival of Colors, Holi One and Colors Festival have been organizing Holi as a social and party oriented event, to promote amity, togetherness and a part of their celebration of cultures in various cities around the world. In 2013, Holi Festival of Colors hosted nearly 250,000 participants at venues all over the world. Instead of coinciding with the auspicious date when Holi is celebrated in India, these Holi-inspired festivals are typically adapted to local weather and holiday schedules and do not stick to the auspicious day as warranted by Hindu orthodox circles. Hindu Americans do no lag behind and follow suit, better late than never. Moreover these are not religiously focused. The organizers claim thousands of people join in to celebrate and experience the festivities. In USA states like Tennessee run schools where students originating from 70 countries speaking 60 different languages at home study. They celebrate events like Diversity Day, Celebration of Cultures, Peace On Earth Day etc. They also willingly participate in Hindu festivities like Holi and Deepavali without any reservation even without invitation.
The Bonfire and Bright Colored Festival of Holi is more a social festival than religious looking at the way it is celebrated. The social fabric in India is so knitted that no human activity is segregated from the divine. So this festival is connected to the Holika-legend and the escape of Prahlada from death at the hands of Holika. Another story says that on this day Holika, a devoted sister insisted on being burnt on the pyre of her brother Samvat in her excessive love for her brother and by her devotion Samavat was restored to life. The Holi fire is now burnt every year to commemorate this tragedy. Hindus burn fire on the night before Makara Sankranti or Pongal, as well as on the day previous to Holi. On these days old, worn out and dirty things are discarded and burnt signifying burning away all negative things and purify oneself for the Sun worship the next day. Old dirty habits and negative thinking are burnt with firm resolve to tread the path of truth, love and purity from this holy day onwards. We can see the bonfire made in several traditions of Europe to commemorate significant events, ward of evils and herald the oncoming spring season.
A bonfire is a large but controlled outdoor fire, used either for informal disposal of burnable waste material or as part of a celebration. The name "bonfire" is derived from the fact that bonfires were originally fires in which bones were burned. Bonfires are used on farms, in large gardens and allotments to dispose of waste plant material that is not readily composted. This includes woody material, pernicious weeds, diseased material and material treated with pesticides and herbicides. Such bonfires may be quite small but are often designed to burn slowly for several days so that wet and green material may be reduced to ash by frequently turning the unburnt material into the center. Such bonfires can also deal with turf and other earthy material. The ash from garden bonfires is a useful source of potash and may be beneficial in improving the soil structure of some soils although such fires must be managed with safety in mind. Garden and farm bonfires are frequently smoky and can cause local nuisance if poorly managed or lit in unsuitable weather conditions.
In many regions of continental Europe bonfires are made traditionally on January 16, the solemnity Day of John the Baptist, as well as on Saturday night before Easter. Bonfires on the night of April 30 are also a feature of Walpurgis Night in central and Northern Europe celebrating the burning of Witches. In Finland bonfires are tradition on Easter and in the midst of May celebrations. Bonfire traditions of early spring, lit on the Sunday following Ash Wednesday (Funkensonntag), are widespread throughout the Alemannic German speaking regions of Europe and in parts of France. The burning of "Winter Effigy" in Zürich is inspired by this Alemannic tradition. In Austria "Osterfeuer", Easter Fires, are widespread.
The night of the 30th April or the 1st May is considered magical. Feast is probably originally celebrated on the full moon, which was closest to the day which is exactly between the spring equinox and summer solstice. People believe that on this night the witches are flying to the Sabbath, and indeed this is one of the biggest night of pagan holidays. The ash from these fires have had a special power to raise crops, people also walk the cattle through the ashes to ensure fertility. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai died on Lag Ba’Omer. In Israel Lag Ba’Omer is very popularly observed and celebrated as a symbol for the fighting Jewish spirit with bonfires. As Lag Ba'Omer draws near children begin collecting material for the bonfire: wood boards and planks, old doors, and anything else made of wood. On the night itself, families and friends gather round the fires and youths will burn their bonfires till daybreak. England celebrates its Gun Powder Plot similarly in November. In Turkey bonfires lit on Hidirellez Day is believed to be the awakening day of nature at the beginning of spring.
THE COLOR RUN
The Color Run touted as “The Happiest 5k on the Planet” is the five kilometers (5K) color powder blasting race that takes place in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The event is not timed. Its participation is neither to win nor lose for there are no winners or prizes. People are motivated to run for health and fun and are free to join at any point or drop out at any point. They are blasted with different colors at a stations distanced by a kilometer along the track.
The Color Run was conceptualized by Travis Snyder of Utah in an effort to encourage busy professionals and novices to run together for fun. Its first event took place in January 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona, with 6,000 participants. In 2012, The Color Run held events in over 50 North American cities, with a total of more than 600,000 participants. It is the largest five-kilometer event series in the United States today. America resorts often to several such charity runs but this is the largest. Last year events were held in over 130 cities in the United States, South America, Europe and Australia Color Run hosted their first event in South Africa last year.
We hear about Walkathons and Runathons quite often in America for charitable purposes drawing public attention. Running is a good exercise, brisk walking regularly is even better, the health promoters say. But what color has to do with it? We often hear laughter is the best medicine. We do not need a prescription for laughter. It does not cost anything. This is what the Color Run pioneers have learnt from the Hindu holy festival Holi. There is no limit to the amount of laughter you burst into as you are blasted with colors on the Holi Day. The joyous crowd enhances the tempo as you move along. If you get a chance to visit any park in India where people go for exercise you will find people start their exercise after continuously laughing for 15 to 20 minutes. There are healthy reasons why we should welcome more laughter into our lives.
Laugh can’t replace a day at the gym or an aerobics class but laughter causes changes in the body that are very similar to those that occur during exercise. Our muscles contract and our heart rate increases. We begin to breathe deeply and more rapidly. These responses carry with them a number of benefits—our stress levels drops; vital parts of our body receive stimulation; we feel good; our immune system gets a kick. It is clear laughter can act as a real wonder drug. On celebrations like Holi we all take big doses and laugh our way through life. It is necessary to make room in our life for more humor and cheer, fun and frolic. That is the great message of Holi that has caught the imagination of America. They also wish to share their discoveries with others for leading a better and happier life that is the American way. Color Run could be beneficially linked to non-religious National Holidays.
Runners begin dressed in clean white T-shirts, and pass through a color station once every kilometer. Each color station is associated with a different color, with volunteers blasting the runners with dyed cornstarch out of spray bottles. Runners complete the course covered in washable safe and colorful powder. At the finish line following the run not time watched ends in merriment and feasting. Blasting with rainbow colored powders adds to the fun and frolic.
Huffington Post article on the subject mentions: "Color Runners around the country will have the opportunity to not only run in the happiest race ever, but also get involved in the movement to end extreme poverty through GlobalCitizen.org, where they can learn about issues, take actions, and raise funds for non-profits. Many Corporate bodies are having an eye to sponsor the Color Run. The Color Run has found favor with athletes to run in Charity oriented race events. Many business ventures caught hold of Valentine’s Day concept and today it is one of the leading commercial day for selling cards and flowers.
Those who run in this event are strong willed. They enjoy getting messy and having fun with that. They would do this rain or shine for it is for a noble cause of charity and kindling in people Health Awareness. Such participations focus on Universal Oneness and not Universal Brotherhood. Brothers do love but quarrel and fight too as we see in Arabs and Israelites and Al-Qaida and Muslim Brotherhood and the rest. Sanatana Dharma preaches Universal Oneness and not Universal Brotherhood and that message is demonstrated in the celebrations of Holi Festival of Hindus.
1. Swami Sivanada, Hindu Fasts and Festivals, Divine Life Society, Sivanada Nagar, India.
2. Swami Nityanand, Symbolism in Hinduism, Centra V Chinmya Mission Trust, Mumbai,
3. Heidi Hall, Color Run,lights up gray day, The Tennessean, Saturday 29, 2014.
4. Wikipedia and other Internet sources.
5. Srinivasan N.R., Phalgun Poornima Festivals, Hindu Reflections<nrsrini.blogspot.com>
6. Mason Gallaway, Laughing Matters, Health and Wellness Magazine, April 2014.all Color Run lights up gray day
[This is a prepared lecture compiled from above references and others for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville and to benefit those who are not able to attend the same in person. You are free to download and use it for your reading and reference as well as circulate to others to spread the wisdom of Vedas and Hindu values which good act will be appreciated.]