Holi, celebrated once in a year, when the winter season is coming to an end and the summer season is about to commence, is named after Holika, the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu. It is believed that the festival has its origins in the Prahladpuri temple of Multan in the Punjab region.
King Hiranyakashipu, who was the king of Multan, had the advantage of being virtually indestructible. So he demanded that everyone worship him. However, Prahlada, the son of Hiranyakashipu, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and this eventually made him reject the demand of his father.
Hiranyakashipu was infuriated and subjected Prahlada to severe punishment. But Prahlalda remained unaffected. Ultimately, Holika, Prahlad’s evil aunt, tricked him into sitting on a bonfire with her. Holika was wearing a cloak that made her immune to fire, while Prahlada was made to stay in her lap. To Pralada’s fortune, when the fire roared, the cloak of Holika flew away and encased Prahlada, who survived while Holika met with death by her own trick.
After witnessing this, Hiranyakashipu could not control his rage and ended up smashing a pillar with his mace, which caused a tumultuous sound and lo and behold! Lord Vishnu appeared as Narasimha, half man, half lion, and killed Hiranyakashipu. The Holi bonfire is a reminder of the victory of good over evil. When the fire is spent and wood turned into ash, people apply that ash on their foreheads. It is similar to the common practice of mixing Chandan (sandal paste) with young leaves and flowers of the mango tree and applying it to promote good skin and health. Biologists believe that rubbing natural colors has positive effects on the human body and can also strengthen the ions in the body to promote good health and beauty.
So much for the goodness and benefits of tradition. But in the same tradition there is rampant patriarchy, and no wonder that cases of molestation and sexual assaults are too often seen in the news. Every now and then this country is shocked by barbaric incidents of rape. Public outcry sometimes follows, with rallies and protests held and demands raised to put an end to the misogyny that makes men believe they are entitled to the bodies of women.
No rules of restraint and decorum apply on the festival of Holi. Its jubilance is crystallized in the popular Hindi catchphrase: “Bura na mano Holi hai” which loosely translates to, “Don’t feel bad, it is Holi”.
Holi is celebrated almost in every corner of India and in other parts of the world as well. This festival, however, has turned into an evil for women and hooliganism seems to have overrun its practice. This year, too, many such stories unfolded, with videos of sexual violence featuring on social media, showing men forcibly putting color on women. Balloons filled with water were intentionally hit at the breasts and genitals of girls, who were groped in the guise of a friendly hug. In an infamous event, a woman who was attacked during Holi in 1987 subsequently ended up committing suicide in a particularly horrifying instance. Last year, in New Delhi, a woman was pelted with semen-filled balloons while on her way home. Delhi University’s gender study group released a report in 1996 documenting how incidents of sexual harassment and assault peak during Holi. The report mentioned that 60.5% of women staying in the university campus that year reported aggravated harassment around the holiday.
As far as I opine, play and fun are acceptable as long as they don’t result in harming anyone. It is sad that a festival as beautiful as Holi is being ruined for so many girls, women, and even young boys and men. It’s really important to teach boys that if someone doesn’t want to play Holi with you, you can’t force colors or balloons or anything on anyone. It simply goes against the basic ethical moral rules. Girls, too, must avoid places that are far too crowded, and they should not be afraid to say No. In other advice, stay hydrated, avoid intoxicants, and carry your mobiles in a waterproof bag on Holi.
—The writer is a student at
Aligarh Muslim University