Holi: Celebration vs. Renunciation

In the most popular traditional story about Holi, Prahlada, one of Lord Vishnu’s child devotees, was not only saved from an aunt who hated him, but he was also saved from the boon of Lord Brahma, the writer of the divine plan. What Brahma writes on the blueprint for the universe unfolds to cause major predestined events in our lives. Had Prahlada left everything for destiny to work out, he might not have been saved; the divine plan created by Brahma, based on flawless karmic calculations, could have been on Holika’s side. But Prahlada made the right choice — the only choice that could have saved him.  He took the refuge (sharanagati) of Lord Vishnu and found the divine plan overridden by Vishnu’s grace. For us, Holika probably represents very powerful circumstances, filled with anger, hatred, restriction, and conspiracies. Prahlada represents a being who is apparently weak but is solely dependent on the Supreme Soul — Vishnu. Of course, Vishnu modified Prahlada’s circumstances, destroyed Holika, and saved Prahlada.

In the other story related to why Holi is celebrated, Shiva turned Kamadeva, the god of desires, into ashes. Following the elimination of desires from the world, Shiva, in his divine play, continued to focus on his blissful self, and Devi Parvati started her meditation on Shiva (for thousands of years) to get her marriage proposal accepted. For us, the festival indicates that whenever an individual being begins the remembrance of Pavati-Shiva, they take the individual being in their protection and trigger his or her spiritual journey by closing the three gates to hell — kama (lust/desires), krodha (anger), and lobha (greed) — for the individual being. With time, renunciation and pure love win over the individual being’s instincts.

We can waste the occasion of Holi by extravagant shopping, partying, gossips, drinking, making fun of others, or watching scrawled TV programs. Alternatively, we can give the festival some spiritual meaning by eliminating at least a single selfish desire.

Edited on May 9, 2019.

In a temple: Rituals vs. Devotion

If journalists are asked by their boss to visit a temple and find out whether attendants are performing a non-devotional ritual or an act of pure devotion, why would this task be scary for them? Because both events would probably be occurring simultaneously in the temple, and the answer would depend on the intention and desires present in the minds of the participants. While one person may be immersed in the selfless remembrance of the Deity during the ceremony, the other, a job hopper, may be performing the same ceremony for better opportunities. In fact, it takes an antaryami to actually differentiate between sakama karma and nishkama karma [1]. And the universe has only one true antaryami. But we mortals can still discuss the differences between devotion and a ritual to further our understanding.

Assume another similar real-world scenario, where a seeker goes to a nearby temple for worshipping the Deity everyday. But after continuing for a few days, the worship creates a sense of achievement in his mind. With some mutual admiration, the ego (ahamkara) darts off and the individual starts thinking that he, now closer to becoming a saint, is much superior to the people around him, especially the ones not present in the temple [2]. Would you classify this person’s actions as devotional? Wouldn’t directly requesting the Deity for material gains be preferable to this kind of worship?

Many modern intellectuals like to group selfish rituals and devotion (bhakti) together. As a result of their approach, Hindu devotionalism gets wrongly interpreted as being ritualistic. At the same time, the idea of this post is not to follow the experts who label “ritual” as an inferior word, for that would be another mistake. But it only aims to underline that devotion and rituals are not synonyms. What is the take home message? A ritual may be an expression of devotion, but devotion does not need any rituals.

 [1] Antaryami refers to the personality who knows the inner feelings of beings. Sakama karma refers to actions performed with a material desire; nishkama karma refers to selfless actions.
[2] Such phenomena are not limited to Hindu temples but can be observed in the places of worship of all world religions.

Feel free to share your views on rituals and devotion. Don’t hesitate if our views differ.

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