Holika Dahan

Throughout history, different cultures have created different holidays that celebrated the universal idea of good conquering evil. In Germanic cultures, Yule was celebrated to celebrate this idea, and in Ireland, Imbolc celebrated light conquering the dark. In the Hindu religion, there are several holidays that celebrate this concept of good versus evil or light versus darkness.

Diwali — or the Festival of Light — is perhaps the most well-known holiday in that culture, but there’s also a holiday that’s not as well known around the world, and that holiday is Holika Dahan. This holiday celebrates the burning of an anti-god known as Holika. It’s a classic good versus evil celebration that just about everyone can appreciate.

The Legend Behind This Holiday

Hiranyakashipu is a king and an Asura that had the desire to achieve immortality. In service to this end, he performed a number of austere meditations known as Tapas and as a result, he was granted a boon by Brahma. This boon granted the king five different powers.

The first power was that he couldn’t be killed by a human or an animal. The second was that he couldn’t be killed indoors or outdoors. And the three other powers granted to him were that he couldn’t be killed at day or night, nor could he be killed by projectiles or by handheld weapons.

After he was granted his wish, he felt invisible, but he also allowed himself to be filled with arrogance. The king then decreed that he should be worshiped as a god. Although he severely punished anyone who stood against him, his son Prahlad severely disagreed with his father and refused to worship him as a god. Prahlad instead continued to worship Lord Vishnu.

Hiranyakashipu grew very angry and made several attempts on Prahlad’s life. During one of these attempts on Prahlad’s life, he enlisted the help of his sister Holiday. She had a special cloak that prevented her from being harmed by fire, so Hiranyakashipu asked her to sit on a bonfire with Prahlad by tricking him to sit on her lap. As this fire raged, however, the garment flew off of Holika and covered Prahlad. As a result, Holika burned to death, and Prahlad was saved.

To deal with Hiranyakashipu, Vishnu assumed the form of a Narasimha (a half-lion and half-human divine avatar). He then took Hiranyakashipu to a doorstep, placed him on his lap, and then eviscerated him with his claws. This allowed him to bypass all of the king’s five boons and kill him. Saving Prahlad and humanity from Hiranyakashipu and Holika is now seen as a victory of good versus evil.

How Holika Dahan Is Observed

The night before this celebration, pyres are burned across Northern India, Southern India, and Nepal. It’s customary for young people to take a variety of objects and place them in the Holika pure. People also gather in each other’s homes to enjoy drinks and seasonal foods such as gujiya (a sweet-fried dumpling), and Malpuas (a dessert pancake). People also use the holiday to repair broken relationships.

Where is it celebrated?
India (Restricted holiday)
When is it?
This year (2023)
March 7 Tuesday
Next year (2024)
March 24 Sunday
Last year (2022)
March 17 Thursday