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Founder Pandit Gunanand Persaud
The celebration of Holi is very ancient in its origin. And by its very origin, it celebrates an ultimate triumph of the 'good' over the 'evil'. While, a feast of colors associated with the Holi, is the face of this celebration, the original reason of celebrating Holi, lies in its soul. And this gives us the 'why' of this ancient festival. Literally "Holi" signifies "burning" in Indian language. But, how it came to be associated with 'burning', is a story. The reference is found only in ancinet Indian mythology. And It is the legend of Hiranyakashipu, to whom the celebration of Holi is associated. Way back in the pre-Christian era, there lived a demon king named Hiranyakashipu in ancient India. He wanted to avenge the death of his younger brother. The brother, also a demon, had been killed by Lord Vishnu, one of the supreme trio, monitoring the life and death in the universe, (according to the Hindu belief). To take on Vishnu, the tyrant king wanted to become the king of the heaven, earth and the underworld. He performed severe penance and prayer for many years to gain enough power. Finally he was granted a boon. Powered by the boon, Hiranyakshipu thought he had become invincible. Arrogant, he ordered all in his kingdom to worship him, instead of God. The demon king, however, had a very young son, named Prahalad. He was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. Despite his father's order, Prahalad continued to pray to Vishnu. So the demon king wanted to kill his son. He asked the favor of his sister Holika who, because of a boon, was immune to fire. They planned that Prahalad would be burned to death. A pyre was lit up and Holika sat on it, clutching Prahalad. Yet, at the end Prahalad emerged unscathed by the fire, And Holika, the demon, was burned to ashes. The earnest devotion and complete submission to Lord Vishnu savedyoung Prahlad. Thus was the triumph of Prahlad, the representative of good spirits. And the defeat of Holika, the representative of evil. Later, even the demon king Hiranyakashipu was killed by Lord Vishnu. But that is quite a different story. It is from Holika, that the Holi originated. This legend is relived even today on the Holi-eve when the pyre is re-lit in the form of bonfires. Even today, people celebrate this occasion. Huge bonfires are lit up every year on the eve of the full moon night of the Holi to burn the spirit of the evils. Hence the story associated with the soul of the celebration. Now, let us look into the face of it. How did the celebration of Holi assume a colorful face? Well, it is linked to yet another legend, the legends of Krishna. Though of much later origin, still, it was in the pre-Christian era. According to the Hindu belief, Krishna was a reincarnation of lord Vishnu himself. It was Krishna, or, Krishn, the king of the ancient city of Dwarka, who popularised the tradition of Holi. The origin of the colorful and frolicking tone of Holi lies in the boyhood of Krishna. It all came up as part of his pranks, he used to play with his boyhood mates of Gokul and Vrindavan. Situated in north India, these are the places where he spent his childhood. It was at this time of year, Krishna used to play pranks by drenching the village girls, with water and colors. At first it offended the girls. But they were so fond of this mischievous boy that soon their anger melted away. And, it did not take long for other boys to join in, making it a popular sport in the village. Later, as Krishna grew up, the play assumed a new dimension. It added more colors to Krishna's legendary love life. The legend of Krishna's courtship with Radha, and playing pranks with the 'Gopi's. The girls in the 'dairy' village of Gokul were mostly milkmaids, and, hence locally known as the Gopis. The same tradition has transpired through the ages, turning it into a community festival of the masses. As time kept flowing, the culture spread roots to other regions of the country. The Holi play of Krishna is documented in hundreds of ancient paintings, murals, sculptures and scriptures found across the subcontinent.
Mahashivaratri (the great night of Shiva) falls on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (February- March), and is dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva. This festival is purely religious in nature and universally observed by all Hindus. On this day devotees sing bhajans in honor of Shiva, recite Sanskrit shlokas (verses) from scriptures, offer prayers in the morning and evening, and some observe fasting throughout the day. People visit nearby temples of Shiva and offer prayers in large crowds. The prayers and worship continue late into the night when the devotees offer coconut, Bilva leaves, fruits, and specially prepared sacred food to Shiva and his divine consort Parvati. Offering Bilva leaves to Shiva on Shivaratri is considered very auspicious by his devotees. The origin of Shivaratri is attributed to several stories in Hindu mythology. One very popular story traces the origin of this festival to the churning of the Ocean of Milk by devas (gods) and asuras (demons). It is said that when both gods and demons were churning the Ocean of Milk to obtain amrita (water of immortal life), they came across many unusual substances, including the deadly poison Kalakuta. As soon as they touched the poison, it exploded into poisonous fumes that threatened to envelope the entire universe by darkness. When the destruction of the universe seemed inevitable, the gods ran for assistance from Brahma and Vishnu, but neither was able to help. At last they ran to Lord Shiva, who raised his trident and condensed the fumes. In order to save the creation, Shiva swallowed the poison without spilling a single drop. The poison left a dark blue mark on Shiva's throat. The gods praised and worshipped Shiva for saving the universe. The philosophical essence of the above myth is as follows: gods and demons symbolize all kinds of individuals (both good and bad) in the world. The Ocean of Milk represents the ideal world that is full of peace and happiness for all human beings. Churning the Ocean of Milk signifies the human activity in the world. The amrita symbolizes happiness and the poison represents human greed and selfishness. Shiva symbolizes the atman (self), the spiritual essence of an individual. Worship of Shiva denotes meditation and contemplation by an individual on his or her own self. The above story is symbolic of the fact that individuals perform actions in the world in order to achieve happiness. In this process a person is usually overpowered by greed and selfishness, ruining his or her efforts for obtaining peace and happiness. Thus the only way to achieve peace and happiness is by worshipping Shiva at night, that is, by meditating on one's own self during the night when the individual is free from the distractions of the physical world. When the individual attains self-knowledge, he or she can live in the world without being affected by anger, greed, and selfishness, the three enemies of one's soul. Shlce Shivaratri symbolizes the worship of the atman within, this festival is celebrated as a purely religious festival by all Hindus, as stated earlier. Another story in Hindu mythology also emphasizes the auspiciousness of Shivaratri: On the day of Shivaratri, a hunter, who had killed many birds in a forest, was chased by a hungry lion. The hunter climbed a Bilva tree to save himself from the lion's attack. The lion waited throughout the entire night at the bottom of the tree for its prey. In order to stay awake to avoid falling from the tree, the hunter kept plucking the leaves of the Bilva tree and dropping them below. The leaves fell on a Shiva Linga that happened to be located at the bottom of the tree. Shiva was pleased by the offering of the Bilva leaves by the hunter, although inadvertently, and saved the hunter in spite of all the sin the hunter had committed by killing the birds. This story emphasizes the auspiciousness of worshipping Shiva with Bilva leaves on Shivaratri.
The history of Diwali is replete with legends and these legends are moored to the stories of Hindu religious scriptures, mostly the Puranas. Though the central theme of all legends point out to the classic truth of the victory of the good over the evils, the mode of their presentation and the characters differ. Diwali, being the festival of lights, lighting the lamp of knowledge within us means to understand and reflect upon the significant purpose of each of the five days of festivities and to bring those thoughts in to the day to day lives. The five day of Diwali The first day of Diwali is called Dhanvantari Triodasi or Dhanwantari Triodasi also called Dhan Theras. The second day of Diwali is called Narak Chaturdasi. It is the fourteenth lunar day (thithi) of the dark forthnight of the month of Kartik and the eve of Diwali. On this day Lord Krishna destroyed the demon Narakasur and made the world free from fear. The third day of Diwali is the actual Diwali. This is the day when worship for Mother Lakshmi is performed. On the fourth day of Diwali, Goverdhan Pooja is performed. The fifth day of the diwali is called Bhratri Dooj. It is a day dedicated to sisters. Hindu Mythology The Story of Rama and Sita: Lord Rama was a great warrior King who was exiled by his father Dashratha, the King of Ayodhya, along with his wife Sita and his younger brother Lakshman, on his wife's insistence. Lord Rama returned to his Kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, in which he put an end to the demon Ravana of Lanka, who was a great Pundit, highly learned but still evil dominated his mind. After this victory of Good over Evil, Rama returned to Ayodhya. In Ayodhya, the people welcomed them by lighting rows of clay lamps. So, it is an occasion in honor of Rama's victory over Ravana; of Truth's victory over Evil. The Story of King Bali and Vamana Avatar(the Dwarf): The other story concerns King Bali, who was a generous ruler. But he was also very ambitious. Some of the Gods pleaded Vishnu to check King Bali's power. Vishnu came to earth in the form of a Vamana(dwarf) dressed as priest. The dwarf approached King Bali and said "You are the ruler of the three worlds: the Earth, the world above the skies and the underworld. Would you give me the space that I could cover with three strides?" King Bali laughed. Surely a dwarf could not cover much ground, thought the King, who agreed to dwarf's request. At this point, the dwarf changed into Vishnu and his three strides covered the Earth, the Skies and the whole Universe! King Bali was send to the underworld. As part of Diwali celebrations, some Hindus remember King Bali. The Defeat of Narkasur by Lord Krishna: Lord Vishnu in his 8th incarnation as Krishna destroyed the demon Narkasura, who was causing great unhappiness amongst the people of the world. Narkasura was believed to be a demon of filth, covered in dirt. He used to kidnap beautiful young women and force them to live with him. Eventually, their cries for rescue were heard by Vishnu, who came in the form of Krishna. First, Krishna had to fight with a five-headed monster who guarded the demon's home. Narkasura hoped that his death might bring joy to others. Krishna granted his request and the women were freed. For Hindus, this story is a reminder that good can still come out of evil. Krishna and The Mountain: In the village of Gokula, many years ago, the people prayed to the God Indra. They believed that Indra sent the rains, which made their crops, grow. But Krishna came along and persuaded the people to worship the mountain Govardhan, because the mountain and the land around it were fertile. This did not please Indra. He sent thunder and torrential rain down on the village. The people cried to Krishna to help. Krishna saved the villagers by lifting the top of the mountain with his finger. The offering of food to God on this day of Diwali is a reminder to Hindus of the importance of food and it is a time for being thankful to God for the bounty of nature.
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