Festivity and Mankind
Holi is one of the most famous Hindu festivals in the world. The phenomenon of holidays, celebrations and festivals coincides with the human nature. The event of expressing the joy in specific times and days exists amongst most of the nations on earth, whether civilized people or the primitive tribal societies, including the people who adhere to a religion, whether, the religion is a divine message or a human creation.
However, the method of celebration varies from folk to folk, from tribe to tribe, from religion to religion, from culture to culture. Festivals in the most religions have links to some stories, tales or legends, as is the case in the Hindu festival Holi.
This article aims to study the Hindu festival Holi, comparing it with Islamic festivals. We will shed light on the nature of Holi, the aspects of the celebration and the ways of expressing the pleasure. Also, we will talk about Islam’s position regarding the ways of celebration and festivity. Are the ways and methods of celebration based on divine revelation, or they are merely human creation? Do the ways of celebration match the nature of the society? Do they fulfill the religious, ethical and social requirements and hunger of mankind? This article will address these questions in a fair and academic method.
Historical Background of Holi
Holi is considered one of the most important festivals of India, which is known as the festival of colors. This festival is celebrated every year in the month of Phalguna when the moon is full according to Hindu calendar.(1) That coincides with the month of March and sometimes in February as per the Gregorian calendar.
The origin of the word Holi returns to Holika, according to the Hindu mythology she was the sister of an Indian king called Hiranyakashyap who worshipped Shiva and exercised some sort of severe devotional and spiritual exercises until he got a blessing and a divine promise that he will never die, neither on the earth nor in the sky, neither in the evening nor in the daytime, neither by human being nor by an animal. Having received the blessing and promise, he claimed his superiority over Vishnu. Thus, people became afraid of him and his power. He announced that no one will mention the name of Vishnu and that there is no god except him. He had a son called Prahlad who was a true devotee of Vishnu and believed Vishnu as his only god. No one was able to move him from his faith. That is why Hiranyakashyap was determined to eliminate him by any mean, but he could not harm him. He tried frequently to kill him, but failed, until he ordered his sister Holika to enter a fire with Prahlad and burn him alive. It was a promise from god that the fire will never burn Holika. She obeyed her brother’s order and took Prahlad in her lap and tied him in her arm then entered the fire. Large pieces of wood were thrown over them and fire was lit. The fire did not affect Prahlad and he remained unharmed, but Holika began to scream and shout and tried to escape from the flames of the fire. People did not believe her screaming as she entered fire many times and came out totally unharmed, thus she was burned completely and died in the fire, while Prahlad came out of the fire reciting Hari Hari. Vishnu incarnated into Narsingha; in a shape of half man and half lion to eliminate Hiranyakashyap. Holika got her due punishment for bad doing by trying to burn Prahlad. As a revival of this anniversary effigy of Holika is burnt each year in the night of Holi.(2)
Some Logical Observations on the Myth of Holika
This myth has been mentioned in some Hindu scriptures, but it is merely a fictional not realistic, it is based on shaky ground that could not stand before the mental and logical critique. We are going to summarize some logical observations on this myth in the following points:
First: This story has no chain of narration; no one knows who saw this incident and who reported it, while the story goes back to thousands of centuries. How this story came to the author who recorded it. Were the reporters trustworthy or liars? However, we find in Islamic culture that any Hadith has its chain of transmission, from the author to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), for example, when Imam al-Bukhari reports any Hadith, he mentions the entire narrators between him and the Prophet (peace be upon him). The science of Hadith never accepts any Hadith without a continuous chain. Also, all narrators of the Hadith must be trustworthy and pious, if any of them is a liar or fraud the narration would be rejected. There are many strict rules for the acceptance of a narration or story in the science of Hadith. But this story of the Hindu festival Holi, rather, any scripture of Hinduism does not have any chain of narration at all. How can we accept a religious faith without a chain of narration?
Second: How can a human being obtain immortality in this world? Every human being who comes to this world must die sooner or later. This is the common rule and natural law in the universe. No one lives forever in this life. This is the common rule with every living thing in this world that has been declared clearly in the preserved and authentic divine message, the Glorious Qur’an.
Third: A child cannot distinguish between good and evil, between right and wrong, between belief and disbelief. A child is the one who plays with a snake which looks to him smooth and colorful. How did the child Prahlad know Vishnu? The children, mostly follow their parents and repeat what they hear from them. All these observations refute the authenticity of this story.
Fourth: Why the child was not thrown into the fire alone? Why they needed a woman to accompany him in the fire? If they wanted to burn the child it was easy to throw him into the fire alone. Furthermore, if the woman escaped the harm of the fire many times because she had got a promise from her God, why was she burnt in the fire this time?
Fifth: It was better to burn the effigy of the King Hiranyakashyap who claimed divinity for himself and not his sister who was a helpless woman and had no option but to execute a command of her brother, who was a tyrant king.
Only some rational and intellectual critiques have been mentioned, however, there are many other suspicions about the authority of this nonsense that have been avoided so that it would not lengthen.
Some Social Negatives of Holi in Present Days
Mostly, the festival of Holi turns into a means of sexual harassment in the streets and roads. Girls are subjected to shameful harassment in broad daylight, as was mentioned in an article published in Times of India.
Holi has, for long, been an excuse for men to sexually harass women across the country. Women of all ages recall being drenched in color put on them by strangers and were pelted with water balloons.
The article says: “It was around this time that some greeting cards began displaying vulgar messages that legitimized sexual harassment during Holi. Wide-scale protests by feminists across the city forced the company to withdraw them and apologize.The harassment, however, continues.”(3)
Furthermore, the common societal norms regarding touching strange women and girls are relaxed during Holi. Hooligans and roadside thugs are not the only ones who misuse the festival of Holi, friends, relatives and neighbors, too, are known to make overt and covert sexual advances towards women and teenage girls during Holi.
There are some videos on the internet that reveal the facts of these criminal acts during Holi festival in India, and no one dares to object or stop the troublemakers as the Holi is the day of joy and pleasure.
We do not judge the religion according to the actions of its followers, but the reality is that such actions are done in the name of religion and faith. The religious leaders and Hindu priests never try to correct such religious and social deviation, unlike, the Muslim scholars and preachers who condemn any action that contradict the Glorious Qur’an and blessed Sunnah.
In fact, the principal Hindu festivals were founded on the changes of seasons such as spring and autumn; the time when the sun begins its course to the south.
Nearly all festivals have legends connected with them, in honor of the gods and goddesses who are worshipped with devotion and faith. The Durga Puja, for example, is a celebration of an imaginary fight, and worship is paid to her instead of the One True God, the source of all our blessings.
An English writer says about the Hindu festivals:
“The worship which they perform on these nights consists merely in drumming and shouting, fireworks, in the dragging of the idol car by annoying noisy crowds, in singing and dancing, and in all sorts of shows, noises and riots. On the occasions when this worship is being performed no one ever gives the people who are assembled any exhortation for the good of their souls, nor is any means, then put in operation for the promotion of virtue, and hence the so-called worship promotes immorality instead of good morals.(4)
We note that Islamic festivals are always followed or preceded by congregational prayers and a sermon that invites people to virtuous deeds, moral values, doing good with relatives, neighbors, friends and parents, helping the poor and needy irrespective of race, religion, faith, nationality or affiliation. As can be seen in the sermon of Jumu`ah, `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha and in the sermon of Hajj in `Arafat.
Characteristics of the Islamic Festivals
If you compare the Islamic festivals and Hindu festivals you will find a clear difference between them in everything; in faith, action and behavior. Islamic festivals are characterized with honest belief, pure action, good behavior, high ethics, and love for all, the distribution of alms and charity among the poor and needy and feeding the orphans and widows. Islamic festivals exemplify the love of good for all and philanthropic exertion for everyone. Even, `Eid Al-Adha, for example, embodies the common welfare for the poor and needy, the meat of sacrificial animal is divided into three portions: one for the poor and the needy, the second for the friends, neighbors and relatives, and the third for one’s family. Do you not see that Islam through these festivals intends to spread goodness and joy among all people and does not include any harm to any person a Muslim or non-Muslim?
On the contrary, we find most of the Hindu festivals include serious deviation in the beliefs and corruptions in the action, even some of them include actions that hurt the feelings of others, male and female, wasting money and sexual harassment, as was mentioned previously.
In fact, the sound mind and the true religion are compatible and not contradicting. You need merely to liberate your mind and your thought from the shackles of the tradition and blind following. If you have courage, nothing can stop you from the recognition of the blessings of Islam, its truthfulness and usefulness. (For more information on this subject, please, click here.)
I pray to Allah the Almighty to save us from going astray and guide us to the straight path.
(1) Sudha Singh, Ancient Indian Festivals, University of Allahabad, U.P. India, 2002, p.75.
(3)http://m.timesofindia.com/city/delhi/When-festivity-takes-on-unholy-hues-onHoli/articleshow/12181373.cms (Last accessed on 26-3-2014).
(4) John Murdoch, Hindu and Muhammadan Festivals, “Asian Educational Services”, New Delhi 1991, pp.72,73.