The festival of Holi is celebrated with great fervour in India as well as among Indian communities all over the world. It is often dubbed the most ‘fun’ festival that is about playing with water and colours, singing, dancing and eating. But what really is the significance of this festival apart from ‘having fun’? Or maybe that’s just it.
Most of us look back fondly at our childhood as a phase of time when we were most happy. But what do we cherish most about that time? It’s not the fact that we were half our current height or weight, less intelligent about the world or less able to perform complex tasks. It is mainly the fact that we were able to enjoy ourselves so unbridledly. It’s that ability we appear to lose as we ‘grow up’.
As I have written before, the ability to be playful in itself may be yoga. Do see the article ‘The Yoga of Playfulness’ written last Holi where this was explored more deeply in the context of Krishna’s raas leelas. As noted there, modern corporate theory and cutting edge organisations like Google have also woken up to the impact of playfulness on productivity and creativity; yet the yogis had discovered an even more profound value for it – as a means for yoga.
We all know by experience that we function best when we are joyful. In fact the aim of all spiritual process always was to be happy, blissful, to taste ‘ananda’ and the ‘amrit’ (nectar) of life. The great yogis and sages of ancient times confirmed by their own experience that indeed, life is joy and exuberance itself.
Bhrigu meditated and found that joy is Brahman.
From joy are born all creatures,
By joy they grow, and to joy they return.
Bhrigu, Varuna’s son realised this Self
In the very depths of meditation.
– Taittiriya Upanishad (III-6)
How to be happy
Holi is, in a way, a lesson in happiness. The day before the main colour/water festival, Holika dahan is performed which is a bonfire ritual. There are mythological stories associated with this but if we consider the wisdom being conveyed, it is to burn the old and all that does not serve us anymore. This constant burning of the past in our minds is necessary to be constantly renewed and in tune with life which is always fresh.
As we grow ‘older’, the tendency to stick to past memories and opinions increases which stifles our natural joy. Holi teaches us to burn the past (the bonfire ritual) which then allows us to celebrate life’s exuberance (the festival of colours).
Whether we burn what doesn’t serve us in the fire of wisdom (jnana), the fire of love (bhakti) or the fire of selfless service, may the joy of Holi come alive for all in the truest way. Happy Holi.
A single understanding:
“I am the One Awareness,” consumes all suffering
in the fire of an instant.
– Ashtavakra Gita
See also: ‘The Yoga of Playfulness’
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