The story behind the festival, Holi, begins with Holika, the sister of Hiranyakashyap, who was the father of Prahalad. Hiranyakashyap had declared himself as God and wanted his son Prahalad to worship him and not Vishnu. When Prahalad refused to do the same, he was made to sit with Holika in an open fire. Holika had been granted a boon that she could not be burned even if she was on live fire. When she was made to sit with Prahalad on the live fire, the opposite happened. She burned to death but Prahalad came out unharmed and alive from the fire.
The above story has a deep spiritual meaning. Hiranyakashyap represents “ego”, which when takes control, makes one forget about his own consciousness so that the person starts thinking himself as the supreme power. The same symbolic representation is seen with Ravana in Ramayana and Kansa in Mahabharata.Prahalad represents a person with self-realization who is in touch with one’s consciousness. The consciousness cannot be burned, cut, dried or made wet by anything. It is imperishable and everlasting.
All those people who have acquired self-realization via Bhakti, Karma or Gnana path are in a state of God acquaintance and nothing can destroy them.The obstacles to the pathway of self-realization are “attachment, anger, desire, greed and ego”. When all these negative factors overpower any individual, it leads one away from self-realization or away from consciousness.Holika represents the sum total of the negative forces in the body, which can kill you or harm you, if not controlled in time.
Getting attached to any of the five senses results in a vicious cycle and one can get burnt in this ‘chakravyuha’ of attachments. If you are truthful and have attained a state of one-point contemplation on a known truth, all the negative forces will stay away. All such negative forces if repressed within the body can burn you out over a period of time and that is one of the reasons why all negative emotions should never be suppressed or repressed.
The practice of burning Holi a day before the festival of colour signifies burning of all negative thoughts or emotions embedded in the mind and also to neutralize all the poison arising due to the negative feelings.
As soon as the negativity is removed from the mind, the spiritual vision opens up or the knowledge of the consciousness is attained. Once this is done, only the positive thoughts remain, which is celebrated as sharing and loving each other, the next day.
Sharing love is most important in removing all the above mentioned five obstacles to self-realization. Spreading love reduces anger as well as desires, detaches one from various attachments, reduces greed, and brings humility in a person. Burning ego and other negative qualities also burns the ill feeling amongst each other and makes everybody a friend.
During Holi, the practice, therefore, is to visit and meet not only your friends but also those people to whom you are not friendly. The festival, therefore, is an opportunity to spread brotherhood and happiness in society.
WHO defines health as not a mere absence of disease but a state of physical, mental, spiritual, social and environmental wellbeing.
Holi, therefore, is a classical example or a custom to create “social healthiness” amongst the general society.
Playing Holi with water also has a deep spiritual meaning. It basically means removing dirt from each other. The dirt here does not mean bodily dirt but mental dirt, which once removed leads to spiritual cleanliness.
When you lovingly smear ‘gulal’ (coloured powder) on others, they reciprocate with doubled love and affection.
Similarly, always think of good things about people. Express your positive thoughts about these friends loudly – not only in front of them but also in their absence.
So, the entire essence of the festival is not to play Holi superficially or meet each other at a superficial level but to get rid of the negativity at the level of the mind as well.
There is no point in celebrating Holi and meeting people unless you remove your negative thoughts about them from the mind.