Spiritual Meanings for Holi

Holi Dahan - Burning of Desires

Holi heralds the end of winter and the onset of spring. It is also pointed out as an instance of the conquest of base instincts of man and Holi is a celebration of this conquest. The Holi fire connotes this event in Hindu mythology of the conquest of lust by Shiva. For this reason, Shiva is also known by the names Kameswara, Maara Ripu or Madana Ripu indicating one who has conquered carnal desires.

On Holi day, Hindus remember the life of a pure devotee, Prahlad and keep his spiritual ideas alive. In other parts, it is celebrated as the day of Kaama dahan (burning of desires). Madana Utsava is the vernal festival honoring Madana. Madana Trayodashi is the 13th day in the day in the bright half of Chaitra when the festival in honor of Madana is observed. Madana Chaturdashi is the fourteenth day in the bright half of Chaitra honoring Madana.

Lord Krishna teaches detachment

Sri Krishna relates to Arjuna in Bhagavadgita (Ch.2.62 & 63), on the battlefield of Kurukshetra (a place near Delhi) in Mahabharata that:
       Dhyayato vishayaan pumsah, vangas teshupa jaayate
       Sangaat sanjaayate kaamah, kaamat krodhobhi jaayate
       Krodhad bhavati sammohah, sammohat smriti vibramaha
       Smriti bhramsaad buddhi nasho, buddhi maashaat pranasyati

While contemplating material and sensual objects, persons become attached to them. Such attachment develops lust and lust generates anger. Anger leads to delusion and delusion to mental bewilderment. When the mind is bewildered, intelligence and discretion is lost. Loss of intelligence and discretion leads to downfall of the person.

Holi is an occasion to detach oneself from the delusions of the past and renew our journey towards spiritual fulfillment in the coming year.

Lord Shiva Conquers Lust - Kaameswara

Another story relates to Shiva who was in a deep trance in his Tapas (penance). Kaama or Manmatha or Madana is the son of Krishna and Rukmini. His wife is Rati. Lord Indra, the king of the Devas wanted a commander to lead their forces in their war with the demon Tarakasura. Taraka was the son of Vajranga and Varangi. He propitiated Lord Bhrahmadeva by a severe penance on the Pariyatra mountain. When Brahma appeared before him, he asked as a boon (vara) that he should not he killed by anyone other than a seven day old child. Brahma granted him the boon.

Misusing this boon, Taraka began to oppress the gods. They were obliged to approach Brahma for help to destroy Taraka. Brahma told the devas that only an offspring of Shiva could destroy him. For this they sought the help of Kaama or Maara or Manmatha, the god of love in Hindu mythology to Shiva to drag him out of his meditation and generate an issue with Parvati. This alone could vanquish Tarakasura. Kaama agreed to undertake this mission.

Maara shot his arrows at Shiva but he was not perturbed from his trance. Maara shot a powerful arrow in a final effort to perturb Shiva. At this, Shiva was offended and opened only his third eye (Phaala Netra) and Maara was burnt and turned to ashes instantly. Subsequently, at the beseechment of Rati and the devas, Shiva restored him from the ashes in the form of Pradyumna. His intimate friend is Vasanta or the Spring. His son is Aniruddha. He is armed with a bow and arrows, the bow string being a line of bees and the arrows being a string of flowers of five different plants. Shiva and Parvati created Kaartikeya to destroy Tarakasura. Later, Kartikeya was born and slew the demon Taraka on the seventh day of his birth.

Ref: V.S.Apte: The Student's Sanskrit-English Dictionary. 2nd Ed. Pub.by Motilal Banarsidas, 1988.

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