Fire is generated by fire. Fire is sustained by fire. Finally, fire is consumed by fire! Since attributes of fire are similar to those of the three facets of Divinity, the Trimurti – creation, sustenance and destruction – fire is a symbol of the Supreme in all Hindu rituals. Fire illumines itself. One sees fire in its own light, fire alone lights up the darkness; fire enables us to see all else.
Little wonder then, that fire is a sacred symbol in all religions. Offerings are made of candles, camphor lamps, incense sticks and oil diyas. Zoroastrian fire temples are renowned. The eternal flame there, called ‘Atar Beheram’ is treated like a king with a crown hung over it. This fire is fed five times a day by priests to keep it going.
In a dramatisation of the victory of good over evil, we have the legend of Holika, who, at the behest of her non-believing brother, King Hiranyakasipu, entered the burning fire with her nephew Prahlad in her lap. Since Holika had a boon that protected her from fire, it was thought that Prahlad would die and she would emerge unscathed. But Prahlad’s devotion and faith were such that he remained unharmed while Holika burnt to ashes, establishing the truth that eventually, good triumphs over evil.
To celebrate this, bonfires are lit in every home and locality. It also heralds the end of the cold winter and the coming of spring, bringing warmth and new life to crops and other plants. The ritual on Choti Holi of throwing worn out things and broken furniture into the bonfire symbolises the decluttering of mind of all old grudges, sorrows and negativities that pull one down. One awakens to a new year of love and togetherness. The fire ‘eats away’ bad habits, suffocating negative thoughts and clinging attachments that enslave us. Unless one lets go off mental baggage one can never create mind spaces that can breathe in the fresh air of positivity.
The next day, Holi, sees a burst of colours, song, dance, festivities and gay abandon. In a spirit of uninhibited revelry, bright colours are splashed on one and all. In love and joy, each embraces the other. Perfume and flowers, sandalwood paste and coloured water are lavished on friends and foes alike. In India it was always a friendly festival for people of all faiths. Many Sufi kalams are soaked in the love of Holi, using it as a motif of love play with the Lord. In this happy mood of laughter, merriment and feasting, one breaks free of all that imprisons, shackles and binds the human mind. It is celebration of freedom from conditioned thought and regimentation.
The night of Holi sees the rise of a placidly cool and tranquil full moon that soothes the mind that is now cleansed of all prejudices and enmities and allows equilibrium to return to society after a cathartic expression of exuberance.