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The Festival of Holi

The Hindu festival of Holi takes place on 13 March 2017

by Helen Bryant (revised, originally published in 2010)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)

Aims

To consider the meaning behind the festival of Holi and its use of bright colours.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need a leader and four readers. You could also use students to do freeze-frames of the different sections of the story.
  • Have available some images of the festival of Holi and the means to display them during the assembly:

    - a group of children celebrating Holi, available at: http://tinyurl.com/jc7xjvf
    - a girl and a boy smearing coloured paint on each others faces, available at: http://tinyurl.com/zjwdq8j 
    - a large crowd celebrating Holi, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hadx2vu
    a large crowd in Berlin celebrating Holi, available at: http://tinyurl.com/jb9vzye
    - sacks of the powdered paint used for Holi, available at: http://tinyurl.com/gljgbkx

  • Optional: you may wish to use the song ‘True colours’ by Phil Collins during the assembly, in which case you will also need the means to play it. A YouTube video of it is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbqvifFqtq8. It is 4.35 minutes long.

Assembly

Leader: Show the images of the festival of Holi.

Ask the students what they think the people in the images are doing.

Listen to a range of responses.

Explain that the people are putting coloured paint on one another. They will smear it on their own faces and throw different powder colours and water at one another, too. Ask the students why they think the people are doing this.

Listen to a range of responses.

Explain that the people in the pictures are Hindus and they are celebrating the festival of Holi.

Reader 1: The festival of Holi is the Hindu festival of colours, but it is also a celebration of spring and new life. It is a bright, lively festival where all sense of any differences is laid aside. Different castes all celebrate together – men and women, old and young, all join in the throwing of coloured paint. White clothes are worn so that the colour can stand out even more. It looks like a festival of great fun and excitement. It is not often that you get the chance to throw paint at people!

Leader: As with most Hindu festivals, there is a story attached to the festival that can be acted out or retold. This is the main Holi legend.

Reader 2: Holika was a female demon and the sister of Hiranyakashipu, the demon king. King Hiranyakashipu thought that he was very powerful and considered himself ruler of the universe. He felt that he was higher than all the gods.

Reader 3: Prahlad was the demon king’s son. His father despised him because Prahlad was devoted to the god, Vishnu. One day, the king asked him, ‘Who is the greatest: God or me?’

His son replied, ‘God is. You are only a king.’ The king was enraged and decided to murder his own son.

Reader 4: However, the king’s attempts at murder seemed to fail at every step. Prahlad was pushed off a cliff, and survived; he was flattened by elephants, and survived; he was bitten by snakes, and recovered; he was even attacked by armed soldiers, and still lived. He obviously had someone on his side!

Reader 1: Out of frustration, the king asked his sister, Holika, to kill the boy. Holika seized Prahlad and sat in the middle of a fire with the boy on her lap – surely this would finish him off! Or so the king thought.

Reader 2: Holika had been given a magic power by the gods that made her immune to fire, so she thought that her plan was a pretty good one. Prahlad would burn to death while she remained cool. But it’s never wise to take gifts from the gods for granted and abuse them!

Reader 3: Because Holika was using her gift to do something evil, her power vanished and she was burned to ashes. But Prahlad stayed true to his god, Vishnu, and sat praying in the lap of his demon aunt, untouched by the fire. Vishnu protected him, and Prahlad survived.

Reader 4: Shortly afterwards, Vishnu caused the death of King Hiranyakashipu and Prahlad ruled as a wise king in his father’s place. To celebrate the story, large bonfires are burned during Holi. In many parts of India, a dummy of Holika is burned as a reminder of her bad ways.

Time for reflection

Leader: So what is the moral of the story? The moral is that good always triumphs over evil and those who seek to torment the faithful servants of the gods will be destroyed. This is a powerful message and is highlighted by the importance of colour and fun in the main act of the festival.

It is comforting to know that those who have been bad will be punished and that good is rewarded. The main Holi legend makes for an important message: good will overcome evil in all cases, even if we are trampled by elephants and bitten by snakes!

Prayer
Dear God,
Help us to see the good rather than the bad.
Help us to use our gifts to do good rather than abuse them for other ends.
Let the festival of Holi remind us that being good and respecting others is the best way to live happy and fulfilled lives.
Amen.

Song/music

‘Light up the fire’ (Come and Praise, 55)

Publication date: March 2017   (Vol.19 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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