‘Twas the night before Holi…
On the evening of Holika Dahan, the festival celebrated the night before Holi, my husband and I went to worship at a local Lord Hanuman temple. The idol of Lord Hanuman is exceptionally beautiful in this temple, it’s life size with ornate features and stands on a raised platform. Lord Hanuman also shares the company of Lord Ganesh, who sits gracefully to his right. The steps leading up to the sanctum sanctorum (the sacred area where the deity stands) is guarded by two fierce looking lions, two lions each with a single marigold places on their heads.
After worshiping, we sat in the temple for a while. Incense filled the air as the pandit (priest) attended to the deities, the divine smell of a temple provoking a feeling of tranquility. Several worshipers came and left during the time we sat there. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw a small girl enter the temple. Her father lifted her up so she could ring the big brass bell and they made their way to Lord Hanuman. The little girl, who must have been three or four, abruptly stopped when she saw those two lions at the foot of the stairs. She was very cautious of the stone lions with their open mouths. Her father soon came to the rescue and scooped her up, she didn’t stop looked at the lions until she had reached the stop of the stairs, when she was certain she was safe. Back on the ground she put her hands together and bowed to Lord Hanuman. She was adorable.
As we left the temple, the sun was beginning to set. I noticed a stack of wood at the entrance of the temple, I hadn’t noticed it before. I looked up and down the street, they were everywhere. People were preparing for Holika. I asked my husband, why? He then told me the legend of Holika.
Once there was a demon king who had a boon (a divine gift) which protected him from being killed. When he received this boon he became extremely arrogant, believing he was invincible and greater than all the Gods, he even banned the worship of Gods and Goddesses in his kingdom. The demon king had a son who was a passionate devotee of Lord Vishnu, his son refused to stop worshiping his beloved deity, even after being tortured by his father. The demon king did everything in his power to stop his son from worshiping Lord Vishnu but still the young boy bowed before the God. In a rage the demon king summoned his demon sister, Holika, to murder his son. Holika also had a boon, she could never be harmed by fire. She snatched the boy from his temple and held him on her lap and sat on a huge fire. This act was so extremely sinful that her boon dissolved and she was consumed by the flames, the boy completely unharmed as he was protected by his devotion. Evil was destroyed and faith in God was restored.
To remember this, people like fires on Holika Dahan to relive the burning of evil and remember that We drove around the city and saw hundreds of these triangular stacks of wood. Outside homes, infront of temples and on street corners. The bonfires of all shapes and sizes were being lit all over the city to relive the burning of the evil demon, Holika.
Returning to our house we found that our neighbours were preparing for their Holika fire. Several of the woman who live nearby were throwing grains into the flames, praying and applying pink tilak to eachother (and to me!). These grains throw into the fire create a sacred ash and the next day this ash is smeared on foreheads to ward of evil spirits. My husband I and watched the flames spatter as the grains were throw in.