From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

FestivalsHolika Dahan
Personal information
SiblingsHiranyakashipu and Hiranyaksha
ChildrenRahu and Ketu

Holika (Sanskrit: होलिका), sometimes also known as Simhika was a demoness in scriptures, who was burnt. She was the sister of King Hiranyakashipu and aunt of Prahlad.

The story of Holika Dahan (Holika's death) signifies the triumph of good over evil. Holika is associated with the annual bonfire on the night before Holi, the festival of colors.


Ancient sculpture depicting Prahlada in flames.

According to folk tales Hinduism Today, a king named Hiranyakashipu who, like many demons and Asuras, had the intense desire to be immortal. To fulfill this desire, he performed the required Tapas or penances until he was granted a boon by Brahma. Since the gods rarely granted immortality, he used his guile and cunning to get a boon that he thought made him immortal. The boon gave Hiranyakashipu(also referred to as Hiranyakashyap)five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons), and neither on land nor in water or air. As this wish was granted, Hiranyakashyap felt invincible, which made him arrogant. Hiranyakashyap decreed that only he be worshiped as a god, punished and killed anyone who did not accept his orders. His son Prahlad disagreed with his father, and refused to worship his father as a god. He continued believing and worshipping Lord Vishnu.

This made Hiranyakashyap very angry and he made various attempts to kill Prahlad. During a particular attempt on Prahlad's life, King Hiranyakashyap called upon his sister Holika for help. Holika had a special cloak garment that prevented her from being harmed by fire. Hiranyakashyap asked her to sit on a bonfire with Prahlad, by tricking the boy to sit on her lap. However, as the fire roared, the garment flew from Holika and covered Prahlad. Holika burnt to death, Prahlad came out unharmed.[1][2]

Vishnu appeared in the form of Narasimha - half human and half lion, at dusk (when it was neither day nor night), took Hiranyakashyap at a doorstep (which was neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (which was neither land, water nor air), and then eviscerated and killed the king with his lion claws (which were neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon). In this form, the boon of five special powers granted to Hiranyakashyap were no longer useful. Prahlad and the kingdom of human beings were thus free from the compulsion and fear of Hiranyakashyap, showing the victory of good over evil.[3]

Origin of Holika Dahan[edit]

Holika Dahan, Kathamandu, Nepal

For many traditions in Hinduism, Holi celebrates the death of Holika in order to save Prahlad and we see where Holi gets its name. The night before Holi, pyres are burnt in North India in keeping with this tradition. In some parts of India the day is actually called Holika[citation needed]. There are other activities associated with the story of Prahlad, but the burning of Holika is the one that we can most directly associate with Holi. The story as a whole is testament to the power of devotion (bhakta) over the evil represented by King Hiranyakashyapu, as Prahlad never lost his faith. The burning of Holika is the most common explanation according to Hindu Puranas for the celebration of Holi. In different parts of India varying reasons are given for Holika's death:

  • Vishnu intervened and hence Holika was burnt.
  • Brahma had given Holika the power on the understanding that it can never be used to harm anyone.
  • Holika was good and it was her clothes that gave her the power. Knowing the evil about to be done to Prahlad, she gave these to the boy to save him, sacrificing herself.
  • When Holika sat on the pyre, she donned her flame-shielding shawl and sat Prahlad down on her lap. When the fire was lit, Prahlad began praying to Vishnu, who summoned a gust of wind that blew the shawl off Holika and onto Prahlad, saving him and letting her burn to death.[4]

There is also another story behind Holi that involves a burning sacrifice for the sake of love. The story of Shiva and Kamadev.

Before Shiva was married to Goddess Parvati, Kamadeva (God of Love) and his wife Rati (Goddess of love) tried to help Goddess Parvati win Shiva as her husband. Kamadev and Rati[5] shot their arrow at Shiva in order to disturb his meditation and to make him marry Parvati. But the disturbance caused Shiva to open his third eye and its powerful gaze burned Kamadev into ashes and his wife Rati was broken-hearted. Although, the arrow did not work (itself got destroyed in process), Shiva and Parvati did marry later. At their wedding, Rati begged Shiva to bring Kamadev back to her. Shiva agreed, and restored Kamadeva as a Virtual image with true emotions.


  1. ^ Holi: Splashed with colors of friendship Hinduism Today, Hawaii (2011)
  2. ^ Constance Jones, Holi, in J Gordon Melton (Editor), Religious Celebrations: An Encyclopedia of Holidays Festivals Solemn Observances and Spiritual Commemorations, ISBN 978-1598842067
  3. ^ Kumar, V. (Ed.). (2004), 108 Names of Vishnu. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd., ISBN 8120720237
  4. ^ The Meaning of Holi Parmarth Archived 9 September 2012 at archive.today Retrieved 26 October 2007
  5. ^ rati

External links[edit]