The Holi Story, For Kids

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Mar 3, 2015

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When celebration overshadows the essence of a holiday, it can be hard to find a balance. Holi is a day of colour and play, and, often, that’s the only thing a child takes away from it. If you’re looking for a way to make the holiday more meaningful for your children, try reading them the story below. It explains the origin of the holiday, and much more.

A long time ago, there lived a demon king named Hiranakashyap, who was very vain.  He wanted to be the most powerful creature and prayed to Brahma, the creator of the universe, to make him immortal. Pleased with his prayers, Brahma gave him a boon: Hiranakashyap could never be killed by man nor animal; he could not be killed indoors or out; neither above the ground nor on it; and neither in daylight nor in the dark. The demon king was very pleased with the boon, as it would be impossible for anyone to kill him with all those conditions.

With his boon, Hiranakashyap began to see himself as the most powerful person in the universe, even more powerful than God. He struck fear in the hearts of everyone in his kingdom and insisted that they only worship him and no one else.

Out of fear, everyone in the kingdom worshipped him. But there was one person who didn’t, and that was Hiranakashyap’s own son, Prahlad. Imagine the evil king’s fury when his own son worshiped Vishnu!

He tried to convince his son to stop worshiping Vishnu, but Prahlad would not budge. In anger, the king declared that Prahlad would be killed. The people in the kingdom shook with fear. The king was sentencing his own son to death for not worshipping him! What chance did the rest of them have?

The king ordered his soldiers to push Prahlad off a cliff. But Vishnu saved Prahlad by making him land on a large stack of hay. The evil demon king then had Prahlad pushed into a well. But Vishnu made the water of the well rise so that Prahlad could simply swim out and onto land. Perplexed, the king ordered his son to be trampled by elephants.  But the elephants saw the kindness in Prahlad’s heart and refused to step on him. Hiranakashyap even threw young Prahlad into a pit of poisonous snakes. But when Prahlad began to chant Vishnu’s name, instead of biting him, the snakes danced.

Hiranakashyap was exhausted from trying to kill his son. Nothing seemed to be working. Then, he remembered something. His evil-hearted sister, Holika, had been granted a boon that she could never be harmed by fire.   Hiranakashyap arranged for Holika to sit on a wooden pyre with Prahlad on her lap and ordered it to be set alight.  The flames rushed up. Hiranakashyap laughed, as he believed that Prahlad would finally be killed. But Vishnu transferred Holika’s boon to Prahlad, who emerged from the flames without a single burn, while Holika was reduced to ashes.

Vishnu was enraged with Hiranakashyap for trying to kill his devotee, Prahlad. Many of the other Gods were also troubled by Hiranakashyap’s evil ways but were unable to do anything because of the boon he had received. Vishnu waited until it was dusk and emerged as half-human and half-animal. He dragged Hiranakashyap up the stairs of the castle and killed him in the doorway—where it would neither be inside nor outside, neither on the ground nor in the sky. And Vishnu had waited til dusk, it was neither day nor night. He had satisfied all the conditions of the boon, and Hiranakashyap had to die.

The people in the kingdom rejoiced at the death of Hiranakashyap. They were finally free from the fear that he had spread.

Ever since that time, in order to mark the victory of good over evil, people in India light a bonfire, which is named Holi (after the evil Holika who burned in the fire). And the happiness that the people felt in being free from Hiranakashyap’s fear is celebrated with the joy of colors.

The festival of Holi also marks the start of spring and the farewell to winter. In many parts of the country, farmers celebrate their harvest with this festival. And of course, children all over the country enjoy the colors and water games!

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Written By Tina Trikha

Tina Trikha is a mother of three school-going children. She has lived and worked in India and abroad, and she now, most importantly, raises her kids in Mumbai.

See all articles by Tina

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