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Holi: Hindu festival, 8 March 2012

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

by Helen Levesley

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


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

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the song ‘True Colours’ by Phil Collins.
  • Use this image as a start to your assembly. It will be the framework for the assembly. You can use this, or another image of Holi. There are a few on Google images.
  • You will need three readers, if you are using them. You could also use students to do freeze frames of the different sections of the story.


  1. Show the images of people celebrating Holi. What do you think these people are doing? Take some answers – you will probably get something like, they are throwing paint at one another! Move on leading with this idea.

    Reader 1:  These people are putting coloured paint on one another. They will smear it on their faces, and they will throw different powder colours and water at one another too.

    Leader:  Who is doing this? Take answers.

    Reader 2:  These people are Hindus.

    Leader:  Where is this happening? They could be Hindus in any country, but these Hindus are in India.
  2. Why are they doing this? Again take suggestions. You may well get the right answer.

    These Hindus are celebrating the festival of Holi. It is the Hindu festival of colours, but it is also a celebration of spring and new life. It is a bright and lively festival where all sense of any differences are laid aside. Those who are of different castes will celebrate together – men and women, old and young, all join in the throwing of coloured paint. White clothes are worn in order for the colour to 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!
  3. There is, as with most Hindu festivals, a story attached that might be acted out or retold. See if you can work out the moral of the story. This is the main Holi legend.

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

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

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

    Reader 1:  But the king’s attempts at murder seemed to fail at every step. Prahalad was pushed off a cliff, and survived; he was flattened by elephants, and survived; he was bitten by snakes, and survived; he was even attacked by armed soldiers, and still lived. He obviously had someone on his side!

    Reader 2:  In his frustration, the king asked his sister, Holika, to kill the boy. Holika seized Prahalad and sat in the middle of a fire with the boy on her lap – surely this would finish off the boy! Or so the king thought.

    Reader 3:  Holika had been given a magic power by the gods that made her immune to fire, so she thought this was a pretty good plan. Prahalad would burn to death while she remained cool. But it’s never wise to take the gods’ gifts for granted and abuse them!

    Reader 1:  Because Holika was using her gift to do something evil, her power vanished and she was burned to ashes. But Prahalad stayed true to his god, Vishnu, and sat praying in the lap of his demon aunt, untouched by fire. Vishnu protected him, and Prahalad survived even this torment.

    Reader 2:  Shortly afterwards, Vishnu killed King Hiranyakashyap and Prahalad 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, an effigy of Holika is burned as a reminder of her bad ways.
  4. So what is the moral of the story? The moral of the story is that good always triumphs over evil and those who seek to torment the staunch, faithful servants of the gods will be destroyed. This is quite a powerful message, and one that 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. We can all think of stories that are similar, but it makes for an important message: that good will out, in all cases! Even if you are trampled by elephants and bitten by snakes!

Time for reflection

Let me see the good rather than the bad,

and use my gifts in order to do good,

rather than abuse them for other ends.

Let the festival of Holi show me that being good is the way to really gain the rewards that I seek.

Publication date: March 2009   (Vol.11 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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