The Hindu festival of Holi
The coming of spring and new life, good is stronger than evil.
by Caroline Donne
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
Date varies from year to year - please check the REonline Festivals Calendar.
- The coming of spring and new life
- Good is stronger than evil
- Holi is the Indian Spring Festival. Some of the common features are the harvesting of winter crops and building a bonfire, on which coconut and grains are roasted and shared as prasada (holy food). Often young children and babies are carried around the bonfire and this is thought to offer them protection from harm. The image of fire is linked to the story of Prahlada and Holika (see below).
- Sometimes the celebrations are deliberately riotous, including, for example, the squirting of coloured dyes or paints. This is linked with the themes of spring and fertility and can also be traced back to the god Krishna, who it is said liked to play practical jokes and had coloured dye thrown over him by a milkmaid. Very often at Holi, people will play practical jokes on one another. It’s a festival of great variety and great fun.
- Grains of wheat or barley and fresh coconut. These can be shared out during the assembly, in which case the grains could be lightly baked in oil and honey and the fresh coconut grated or cut into small chunks.
- You will also need a candle.
- Introduce the theme of spring. Talk about the things associated with the coming of spring.
Hindus celebrate a spring festival called Holi at this time. It’s a time to harvest crops grown in the winter and to give thanks for the coming of the spring.
At Holi, big bonfires are built and lit at night to remind people that the winter days are coming to an end.
It’s a time of hope and a time to celebrate new life. Very often children and babies are carried around the bonfires because it is believed following this tradition will keep them safe from harm. Grains and coconut are roasted on the fires, and then this food is shared as a way of celebrating Holi and of giving thanks to God. If appropriate, you might like to share the coconut pieces and grains at this point, or invite just a few students to try them. Alternatively, make them available for students to take as they leave the assembly.
- Introduce the story by explaining that there is another link with fire in one of the stories that is often told at Holi. It’s the story of the demon Holika and her nephew Prince Prahlada.
Once there was a cruel king who thought that he was so important that all his people should worship him, just as if he were a god. The king had a son called Prahlada. Prahlada worshipped one of the most important Hindu gods, called Vishnu. He knew that his own father was not a god and that it was wrong to worship him.
When Prahlada refused to worship his father, the king became furious and he had his own son thrown into a pit full of hissing snakes. But the god Vishnu protected Prahlada and he came out of the snake-pit without a bite.
Then the king grew even more furious and ordered his son to be trampled on by a herd of elephants. But again, Vishnu protected Prahlada and he was unharmed.
The wicked king had an equally wicked sister called Holika. ‘I shall ask her to help me,’ he thought. Holika had magical powers, which meant that she could not be burned by fire. Together Holika and her brother the king made a plan. Holika took Prahlada to the top of a huge bonfire, expecting him to be burned up in it. But Prahlada prayed to Vishnu and suddenly Holika disappeared into the flames. Her magic powers were destroyed and Prahlada was safe.
And so Prahlada, who put his faith in Vishnu, was saved. Hindus tell this story to help them remember that, however bad things are, the force of good is more powerful than the force of evil.
Focus on the themes
Talk about the meaning of the story and the idea of good being more powerful than evil.
Think about the coming of spring. Why do people think of it as a hopeful time?
Time for reflection
Light the candle and invite the students to keep a time of quiet. Ask them to think about new opportunities and fresh hope as signified by the arrival of spring.
God of all,
Thank you for the spring.
Thank you for the colours of spring in the blossom on the trees,
in flowering bulbs,
in the different greens of the grass and leaves.
Thank you for the beautiful world that you have made.