Holi: Celebration vs. Renunciation
In the most popular traditional story about Holi, Prahlada, one of Lord Vishnu’s child devotees, was not only saved from an aunt who hated him, but he was also saved from the boon of Lord Brahma, the writer of the divine plan. What Brahma writes on the blueprint for the universe unfolds to cause major predestined events in our lives. Had Prahlada left everything for destiny to work out, he might not have been saved; the divine plan created by Brahma, based on flawless karmic calculations, could have been on Holika’s side. But Prahlada made the right choice — the only choice that could have saved him. He took the refuge (sharanagati) of Lord Vishnu and found the divine plan overridden by Vishnu’s grace. For us, Holika probably represents very powerful circumstances, filled with anger, hatred, restriction, and conspiracies. Prahlada represents a being who is apparently weak but is solely dependent on the Supreme Soul — Vishnu. Of course, Vishnu modified Prahlada’s circumstances, destroyed Holika, and saved Prahlada.
In the other story related to why Holi is celebrated, Shiva turned Kamadeva, the god of desires, into ashes. Following the elimination of desires from the world, Shiva, in his divine play, continued to focus on his blissful self, and Devi Parvati started her meditation on Shiva (for thousands of years) to get her marriage proposal accepted. For us, the festival indicates that whenever an individual being begins the remembrance of Pavati-Shiva, they take the individual being in their protection and trigger his or her spiritual journey by closing the three gates to hell — kama (lust/desires), krodha (anger), and lobha (greed) — for the individual being. With time, renunciation and pure love win over the individual being’s instincts.
We can waste the occasion of Holi by extravagant shopping, partying, gossips, drinking, making fun of others, or watching scrawled TV programs. Alternatively, we can give the festival some spiritual meaning by eliminating at least a single selfish desire.
Edited on May 9, 2019.