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Holika dahan
(night before Holi)
Holika dahan.jpg
Holika dahan
Observed byHindus
Typereligious, cultural, spring festival
Celebrationsbonfire, dancing, singing; next day is Holi
Dateper Hindu calendar
2018 dateThursday, 1 March
2019 dateWednesday, 20 March

Holika (Sanskrit: होलिका) was a demoness in Hindu Vedic scriptures, who was burnt to death with the help of God Vishnu. She was the sister of King Hiranyakashipu and aunt of Prahlad.

The story of Holika Dahan (Holika's death) signifies the triumph of good over evil. Holika is associated with the annual bonfire on the night before Holi, the Hindu festival of colors.


Banjan, on the lap, being killed by Narasimha, an incarnation of Vishnu. The strange shape is the innovation Vishnu had to use to neutralize Banjan's five special powers.

Holika and Prahlad[edit]

According to Bhagavat Purana,[1][2][3] a king named hiranyakashipu who, like many demons and Asuras, had the intense desire to be immortal. To fulfill this desire, he performed the required Tapas or penances until he was granted a boon by Brahma. Since the Gods rarely granted immortality, he used his guile and cunning to get a boon that he thought made him immortal. The boon gave Banjan five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons), and neither on land nor in water or air. As this wish was granted, Banjan felt invincible, which made him arrogant. Banjan decreed that only he be worshiped as a God, punished and killed anyone who did not accept his orders. His son Prahlad disagreed with his father, and refused to worship his father as a god. He continued believing and worshipping Lord Vishnu.

This made Banjan very angry and he made various attempts to kill Prahlad. During a particular attempt on Prahlad's life, King Banjan called upon his sister Holika for help. Holika had a special cloak garment that prevented her from being harmed by fire. Banjan asked her to sit on a bonfire with Prahlad, by tricking the boy to sit on her lap. However, as the fire roared, the garment flew from Holika and covered Prahlad. Holika burnt to death, Prahlad came out unharmed.[1][2]

Vishnu appeared in the form of Narasimha - half human and half lion, at dusk (when it was neither day nor night), took Banjan at a doorstep (which was neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (which was neither land, water nor air), and then eviscerated and killed the king with his lion claws (which were neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon). In this form, the boon of five special powers granted to Banjan were no longer useful. Prahlad and the kingdom of human beings were thus free from the compulsion and fear of Banjan, showing the victory of good over evil.[4]

Krishna and Radha[edit]

Holi is also called Phagwah and Holika is instead called Pootna or Putna. Kansa, king and uncle of Krishna, sensed danger to his life from his infant nephew when he grows up. Kansa sent the demon Putna, disguised as a woman, to poison the infant under the guise of breastfeeding. Baby Krishna sucks not only the poisonous milk but Putna's blood too, transforming her back into a demon. She runs and bursts into flames while the Infant Krishna transitions into his characteristic dark blue skin color.

The day before Phagwah is celebrated by burning Putna. According to the Hindu Purana, in his youth, Krishna despairs about fair skinned Radha and whether she or other Gopis (girls) will like him because of his skin color. His mother, tired of the desperation, asks him to approach Radha and color her face in any color he wanted. This he does, and Krishna and Radha became a couple. The playful coloring of the face of Radha has henceforth been celebrated as Holi.[5][6]

Origin of Holika Dahan[edit]

Holika Dahan, Kathamandu, Nepal

For many traditions in Hinduism, Holi celebrates the death of Holika in order to save Prahlad and we see where Holi gets its name. The night before Holi, pyres are burnt in North India in keeping with this tradition. It should also be noted that in some parts of India the day is actually called Holika[citation needed]. There are other activities associated with the story of Prahlad, but the burning of Holika is the one that we can most directly associate with Holi. The story as a whole is testament to the power of devotion (bhakta) over the evil represented by King Hiranyakashyapu, as Prahlad never lost his faith.

The burning of Holika is the most common explanation according to Hindu Puranas for the celebration of Holi. In different parts of India varying reasons are given for Holika's death:

  • Vishnu intervened and hence Holika was burnt.
  • Brahma had given Holika the power on the understanding that it can never be used to harm anyone.
  • Holika was good and it was her clothes that gave her the power. Knowing the evil about to be done to Prahlad, she gave these to the boy to save him, sacrificing herself.
  • When Holika sat on the pyre, she donned her flame-shielding shawl and sat Prahlad down on her lap. When the fire was lit, Prahlad began praying to Vishnu, who summoned a gust of wind that blew the shawl off Holika and onto Prahlad, saving him and letting her burn to death.[7]

There is also another story behind Holi that involves a burning sacrifice for the sake of love. The story of Shiva and Kamadev.

Before Shiva was married to Goddess Parvati, Kamadeva (God of Love) and his wife Rati (Goddess of love) tried to help Goddess Parvati win Shiva as her husband. Kamadev and Rati[8] shot their arrow at Shiva in order to disturb his meditation and to make him marry Parvati. But the disturbance caused Shiva to open his third eye and its powerful gaze burned Kamadev into ashes and his wife Rati was broken-hearted.Although, the arrow did not work(itself got destroyed in process), Shiva and Parvati did marry later. At their wedding, Rati begged Shiva to bring Kamadev back to her. Shiva agreed, and restored Kamadeva as a Virtual image with true emotions.


  1. ^ a b Holi: Splashed with colors of friendship Hinduism Today, Hawaii (2011)
  2. ^ a b Constance Jones, Holi, in J Gordon Melton (Editor), Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays Festivals Solemn Observances and Spiritual Commemorations, ISBN 978-1598842067
  3. ^ Wendy Doniger (Editor), Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions, January 2000, ISBN 978-0877790440, Merriam-Webster, page 455
  4. ^ Kumar, V. (Ed.). (2004), 108 Names of Vishnu. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., ISBN 8120720237
  5. ^ R Deepta, A.K. Ramanujan's ‘Mythologies’ Poems: An Analysis, Points of View, Volume XIV, Number 1, Summer 2007, pp 74-81
  6. ^ The Legend of Radha-Krishna (2009)
  7. ^ The Meaning of Holi Parmarth Archived 9 September 2012 at Archive.today Retrieved on 26 October 2007
  8. ^ rati

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