Holika Dahan or the lighting of bonfire takes place on the eve of
Holi. The day is also popularly called 'Chhoti Holi'
or the 'Small
Holi'.The bigger event - play with the colour takes place on the next 'big'
Holika Dahan is an extremely popular tradition and is celebrated with
fervour all across the country and is symbolic of triumph of good over evil.
There are numerous legends associated with this ancient tradition and it is
difficult to pin-point as to when actually the tradition started.
A Brief History
Holikotsav finds a mention in the Vedas and Puranas.
It is stated
that during the Vedic period the sacred fire of Holi was burnt amidst the
chanting of specific mantras which were intended for the destruction of the
demonic forces. It is also said that on this very day Vaishwadev oblation
commenced in which offerings of wheat, gram and oat were made to the
Some scholars believe that Holikotsav is named after fried cereals or
parched grains called 'Holka'
in Sanskrit. These parched grains were
used to perform hawana (a fire ritual).The vibhuti
obtained from this ritual was smeared on the forehead of those who
participated in the ritual to keep away evil. This vibhuti is called Bhumi
. Till date there is a tradition of offering wheat and oat into the
According to Narad Purana,
this day is celebrated in the memory of
and the defeat of his aunt 'Holika'. The legend
has it that there once existed a mighty demon king by the name of
Hiranyakashyap who wished that everybody in his kingdom should worship him.
His son, Prahlad became a follower of Lord Naarayana. Hiranyakashyap
instructed his sister, Holika to sit in the burning fire with Prahlad in
lap. She was blessed with a boon, as a result of which no fire could burn
her. But the opposite happened, Prahlad survived and Holika was charred to
death. Thus 'holi' is celebrated to commemorate the victory of virtue over
It is because of this event, Holika (a bonfire) is burnt every year on
Holi. The burning of the effigy of Holika is called Holika Dahan.
Another legend mentioned in the 'Bhavishya Purana'
considered to be related to the festival of Holi. The legend goes back to
the kingdom of Raghu,
where lived an ogress called Dhundhi
who used to trouble children but was finally chased away by them on the day
of Holi. This is said to be the reason why the tradition of Holika Dahan is
so popular amongst children and why they are allowed to play pranks on the
There is also a specific way in which Holika Dahan takes place. A log of
wood is kept in a prominent public place on the Vasant Panchami day, almost
40 days before
the Holi Festival. People go on throwing twigs, dried
leaves, branches of trees left through the winter besides any other
combustible material they can spare, on to that log which gradually grows
into a sizable heap. On the day of Holika Dahan an effigy of Holika with
child Prahlad in her lap is kept on the logs. Usually, Holika's effigy is
made of combustible materials, whereas, Prahlad's effigy is made of
non-combustible one. On the night of Phalguna Purnima,
it is set
alight amidst the chanting of Rakshoghna Mantras
of the Rig Veda
(4.4.1-15; 10.87.1-25 and so on) to ward off all evil spirits.
Next morning the ashes from the bonfire are collected as prasad
smeared on the limbs of the body. If spared by the fire coconuts are also
collected and eaten.
Metaphorically though, the fire is meant to signify the destruction of evil
- the burning of the 'Holika' - a mythological character and the triumph of
good as symbolised by Prahlad. However, the heat from the fire also depicts
that winter is behind and the hot summer days are ahead.
Next day after Holika Dahan is called Dhuleti, when play with colours
actually takes place.
It may be noted that in some places like Bihar and UP Holika Dahan is also
known as 'Samvatsar Dahan'. The concept of Samvatsar New Year varies in
different provinces of our country. In some provinces the month commences
from 'Krishna Paksha' while in others it commences from 'Shukla Paksha'. For
Krishna Paksha, the year ends on 'Purnima' of the month of Phalgun and thus
the new year begins the next day - Chaitra, first day of the Krishna Paksha.