RIP, Holika!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holika and Prahlada (via rediff.com)
On the eve of Holi, the recently concluded festival of colors, many Hindus celebrate the death of Holika by burning her effigies in bonfires. I usually feel sad at the untimely and cruel death of this young woman, who was a casualty of the enmity between two egotistical stepbrothers. I have to confess that I am also a bit guilty of eating green chickpeas roasted in Holi bonfire during my childhood.

Although the Hindu Gods have become apathetic, incompetent, and ineffective like the Indian Government these days, there was a time when they were as pragmatic, decisive, arrogant and crafty as the present-day US government. Business meant business to them. They were forever busy scheming, granting wishes, doling out riches, ammunition etc. to their followers, who oftentimes turned against the providers. And then the Gods had to fight with their own creations. Such wars destroyed many innocent lives and inflicted immeasurable pain and sufferings.

For the uninitiated let me explain that Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the three supreme Gods in Hindu religion. Together they are called the Hindu Trinity.

Most of us know about the bloodshed caused during the wars of Ramayana and Mahabharata. We are also conditioned to celebrate the killing of the evil demons, but let us not forget that these demons were created by the Gods themselves, and in the ensuing wars, thousands of innocent human beings, monkeys, devas, nagas and good asuras were also killed or maimed. I am sure our Gods are lying low these days because they are afraid of being tried for the war crimes by the present-day human beings.

Here is the story of Holika from Bhagvata Purana. Let me begin from the beginning with her genealogy.

Brahma has ten brain sons (manas putras) — Marichi, Atri, Angirasa, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Vashistha, Daksha, Bhrigu, and Narada. There are more born from his body as well. Marichi has a son called Kashyapa. Kashyapa has thirteen wives — Aditi, Diti, Danu, Kadru, etc. The sons of Aditi are Adityas, the sons of Diti are Daityas, and the sons of Danu are Danavas, and so on. Aditi has twelve sons. The eldest one is Indra and the youngest is Vishnu.

Among Kashyapa’s children from Diti are Hiranyaksha, Hiranyakashyap, Sinhika and Holika. These are called asuras because they were conceived during inauspicious times—none of their fault, really. Take heed people, stop having sex at wrong hours.

The elder brother Hiranyaksha once stole Goddess Earth and hid her in an ocean. Vishnu, disguised as a wild pig or a boar named Varaha, killed him, freed Earth, and later married her.

Hiranyakashyap despises Vishnu for killing his elder brother, so he starts worshiping Brahma to gain power. After he had undergone a long devotional penance by Hiranyakashyap, Brahma rewards him with a boon of conditional immortality. Hiranyakashyap now declares himself the Supreme Lord of the universe. Vishnu being the Supreme Lord until now is mighty piqued with his stepbrother/cousin and wants to kill him. This is thousands of years before the birth of Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammad.

It is natural for Holika to be devoted to her brother. She herself has a boon of non-flammability from Brahma. But Hiranyakashyap’s son Prahlada is fascinated by his uncle Vishnu, and refuses to accept his own dad as God.

Frustrated, Hiranyakashyap unsuccessfully tries to kill Prahlada, first by poisoning, then getting him trampled by elephants, and then confining him in a room full of snakes. However, Vishnu saves Prahlada on all the occasions. Next, Hiranyakashyap plans to burn Prahlada alive for which he orders Holika to hold him in her lap and sit on a pyre, assuming she would come out unscathed due to her boon. But Vishnu turns the tables. As a consequence, Holika burns to death while Prahlada is saved.

Later Vishnu comes disguised as Narsimha and kills Hiranyakashyap and hands over the kingdom to Prahlada. All of which is fine according to the norms of the early civilization, except that Holika is used as a pawn in this game. To further add insult to the tragedy, some people flagrantly celebrate her killing. Had I been in place of Holika, I would have also sided with my brother Hiranyakashyap, the immediate provider and the protector, instead of the sky Gods. Of course, the festival would then have had a different name.

Rest in peace, Holika. Not everyone thinks that your burning is justified.

I am sure even during the time of Vishnu’s war with Hiranyakashyap, many common people like us, the peasants and the artisans, must have been oblivious of the scheming Gods, and might have celebrated the spring festival for it harbingers new beginnings and gives people the opportunity to socialize and spread love and joy. It is said that on this day, people leave aside caste, class, gender, and religious bigotry and mingle with everyone. They are even ready to embrace their enemies.

Now that the festival is over, please don’t forget to revert to your usual discriminatory selves, and do plan appropriate revenge for the enemy you had hugged on the Holi day. I wish you all happiness and success in your endeavors.

Further reading: 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahma 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiranyakashipu
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holika

14 comments:

  1. That's full of information. Not have fun between the sheets at odd hours is most important. Lol.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Alka! This was news to me as well. Now I understand the reason behind the growing number of asuras in the world :O

      Delete
  2. I think, maybe, Holika went a shade overboard in agreeing that burning alive was the appropriate disciplinary action to take against her nephew merely because he liked his uncle better than his dad :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Suresh! Even then this sounds like a scare tactic-- if you worship Vishnu you'll be saved, otherwise you're doomed :-)

      Delete
  3. Learnt a lot from your post--your batting for Holika makes sense!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh Dear Lord! You lost me the moment you started explaining the family tree. It seems the Gods and Goddesses had a lot of sex and produced more Gods and Goddesses. No wonder we have millions of them now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not to forget that the Danavas, Daityas, and the Nagas(serpents) are stepbrothers of the Devas....

      Delete
  5. I just recently came across the fascinating story of Holika and Prahlada, courtesy mom. She knows the Puranas and the Indian epics really well.
    Great blog post though, lots of people will now know about the significance of holi. The burning of effigies of Holika, in fact, is a tradition in rural Bengal. We call it 'chachor' where children gather dried twigs and leaves and build a huge bonfire on Holi eve. Sometimes they utilize the fire to broil vegetables and devour them later on after the fire has died down. I remember being a part of such a ritual once in my childhood. It was insane fun. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sammy! During my childhood, each neighborhood had their own Holika dahan, and kids used to collect the burning material a month in advance. Although these days, it is not advisable to burn such pyres for environmental reasons

      Delete
  6. In 80s and 90s there used to be lot of gang rivalry in Mumbai. Rival gang members used to kill each other etc. Now it is all silent, it does not mean that they are inactive. They realized war is loss for everyone so they mark their boundaries and function. I think over years God and Danavas have realized the same. While dividing the boundaries Gods must have got them lot of good areas which help them leave peacefully without doing any work. Where as Danavas must have been cheated and got some really bad areas to they continue to fight for their survival.

    Unfortunately most of the books are influenced by Gods and that way we also hate danavas since our birth. Just take example of Mahabharata, Pandavas messed up so many things, Udhisthir could not fight, Pandu was literally Pandu, Dhrutarashtra had 100 affairs but hid all of them in the name of Gandhari and poor her had to accept it (perhaps how would a blind man know with whom he is anyway, he must have 100s of servants ) ....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mahesh! Good analogy and great analysis. Anyway, these complicated stories had been written by our ancestors according the prevalent social conditions and the understanding of the world and universe at that time.

      Delete
  7. hey,do ya believe in all these stories and gods.thats funny to blame and criticise gods.

    when it comes to religion,religion came into existence only after civilisation and human mind went corrupt.

    centuries back there was no religion and gods,only civilisation existed.in civilisation humans had flawless wisdom that can solve any issue.with time and centuries gone by,people felt what if human mind goes corrupt,so they found a solution to preserve human state of mind which is flawless with absolute wisdom.the best way to preserve human state of mind for future generations is to give human state of mind a physical form.they built a structure whose parameters are close to nature that makes everyone feel the original human nature.the structure they built was nothing but a temple the first original human state of mind in physical form for future generations.humans were gifted wisdom equal to that of god so that we don't go for his help.in civilisation people believed the reason for absolute wisdom and flawless mind is unknown entity called god.though god is unncessary in human life,they placed a shapeless stone in temple believing god is the reason for their absolute wisdom and flawless mind.

    as human minds went corrupt ,people distorted concept of god,temple and the original human state of mind which resulted in creation of religions,gods with different names,idols,scriptures,huge temples just to build their selfish glory.the confusion and unanswered questions in today's society is due to distorted state of mind and theories.

    why do people feel peace when they visit temple,cuz its first human state of mind which people currently don't have.so question is ,did ya inherit civilisation or religion.religion came into existence only after civilisation went corrupt.

    the reason i wrote about civilisation is to bring clarity in every aspect of life and to find answers with ease.

    people created gods and to substantiate these gods they created scriptures like bhagavadgita,mahabharat,koran,bible.people created gods for two reasons.one is to keep people god fearing and not to degrade further.2nd is people created gods for selfish interests to exploit ignorant and innocent.

    each god from each religion represents the human state of mind of that era.for example,SHIVA WAS THE GOD CREATED BY FIRST HUMAN STATE OF MIND WHICH WAS FLAWLESS.SO WE FIND SHIVA MOST VIBRANT.THERE IS NO PRE-EXISTING GOD CALLED SHIVA.

    LORD VISHNU REPRESENTS HUMAN STATE OF MIND AFTER HUMAN MIND WENT CORRUPT,THERE IS NO pre-existing GOD CALLED VISHNU.

    SAME IS WITH JESUS CHRIST AND ALLAH,THEY REPRESENT THE HUMAN STATE OF MIND FROM THAT ERA.WE HAVE TO MEASURE HOW WISE THE PEOPLE OF THAT ERA ARE.

    SO ALL THESE GODS ARE LIE AND FAKE COZ THEY REALLY DON'T EXIST.RELIGION AND SCRIPTURES ARE FOR PEOPLE NOT TO DEGRADE FURTHER.ANYONE WHO FOLLOWS RELIGION AND SCRIPTURES IS DEGRADED HUMAN.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Rohan! This was a good analysis. Most people follow the scriptures blindly. Good to see that you think rationally. I also believe that all these stories were made up by our ancestors.

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...