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FULL MOON DAY OF PHAALGUNA
This is pre-eminently the spring festival of Bharat. The trees are smiling with their sprout of tender leaves and blooming flowers. With the harvest having been completed and the winter also just ended, it is pre-eminently a festival of mirth and merriment. Gulal (colored powder) is sprinkled on each other by elders and children, men and women, rich and poor alike. All superficial social barriers are pulled down by the all-round gaiety and laughter.
The day itself is associated with many interesting and enlightening Puraanic legends. It is the day of Kaamadahana, the burning of god Kaama - Cupid. The virgin daughter of the king of Himaalayas, Paarvati, was in deep penance to acquire the hand of Lord Shiva as her spouse. But Shiva himself was lost in a deep trance entirely oblivious of the outside world. Kaamadeva came to the rescue of Paarvati and shot his amorous arrows of love at Shiva. Shiva, disturbed from his trance, opened his terrible Third Eye. The flames of Shiva's wrath, leaping from his fore-head eye, burnt Kaama to ashes and there after, Kaama became spirit without a form. Shiva then looked towards Paarvati and fructified her penance by marrying her. It is this burning of lustful infatuation by penance that is signified in this festival.
Holi is also associated with the story of Holika, the sister of demon Hiranyakashipu. The demon-father, having failed in various other ways to make his son Prahlaada denounce Lord Naaraayana, finally asked his sister Holika to take Prahlaada in her lap and enter a blazing fire. Holika, who had a boon to remain unscathed by fire, did her brother's bidding. But lo, Holika's boon ended by this act of supreme sin against the Lord's devotee and was herself burnt to ashes and Prahlaada came out unharmed.
One more legend pertains to another Holika, also known as Pootana, who came as a charming woman to kill the infant Sri Krishna by feeding him with her poisoned breast. Sri Krishna, however, sucked by blood and she lay dead in all her hideous form.
Such stories have effectively charged the popular mind with the faith that ultimately the forces of divinity shall triumph over the demonic forces. Symbolically, a bonfire of Kaamadeva or Holika is made in every town or village, attended by unbounded fun and frolic. Games depicting the pranks of infant Krishna are also played by boys singing and dancing around the fire.
As in the case of all our festivals, this too has its plentiful share of spiritual significance. Fire is the symbol of yajna in which all our bodily desires and propensities are offered in the pure and blazing flame of spiritual enlightenment lit within our hearts.
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