Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Letter to Holika, my Sister


Dear Holika,

How are you my sister? I know getting burnt every year on a particular day is not a great thing to go through. But you have to because you had earned a boon from Shiva that you would not burn by fire. Wasn’t it the reason that your brother Hiranya Kashyapu asked you to hold Prahlada on your lap and enter into the fire? Wasn’t there is a larger conspiracy out there, the conspiracy by the God of Fire, Agni to burn you despite the assurance from Shiva? When Sita went through the test of fire, the same God helped her to come out unscathed. Why did it happen to you? Were you a bad woman? Weren’t you obeying the words of your brother? Or was it because you were black and believed in Shiva? Were you a victim of the Shaiva-Vaishnava fights for supremacy?

I understand Hiranya Kashyapu did not like his own son praising Lord Vishnu all the time. How could one tolerate that? He was a devotee of Shiva and his son was not respecting his father’s god. If I were in Hiranya’s place I would have done the same. Perhaps, I would not have asked to kill him. I would have banished him and would have cried for the rest of my life. But if you look at the larger picture, don’t you think that they wanted to establish the Vaishnava cult over the Shaiva one through indoctrinating Prahlada with the ‘idea’ of Vishnu? I think so. Hiranya had also got a boon from Shiva and Brahma. He would not be killed during day or night, or inside or outside. Hiranya was invincible.

 (Sita in Fire)

When you feel a lot about your power and believe in it, you are bound to falter. But where did Hiranya falter? He was a king and he was ruling the way he wanted. Democracy was not the norm of those days, right? Myths always say that whenever there is a problem it is always caused by the demons. Demons are the people who have dark skins and long hairs. They wanted demonize them further by adding horns, nails, tails and teeth. The picture became complete enough to be scared and hated. Hiranya did not want his son to go to the other camp. So he challenged the devotion of his son. He even asked his son whether his god was omnipresent. Prahlada said, yes. So he broke a pillar with his club. Narasimha came out. Narasimha, the avatar of Vishnu knew it well that Hiranya was invincible. There was conspiracy for sure. That’s why Prahlada chose to challenge his father during the twilight. It was neither day nor night. Narasimha knew that Hiranya could not be killed inside or outside. So he chose to sit at the threshold and did the job. In his next incarnation too Vishnu would trick the Dravidian King, Bali and send him to the nether lands.

I am not saying that Hiranya was completely right in choosing you to go into the fire with Prahlada. He could have chosen anyone else. In his court anyone could have been dispensable than you. Any soldier could have done it. But he wanted his sister to go. Was it because you were woman so that inconsequential? Your life was dispensable? Was he taking a chance against the larger conspiracy? Or was it his last ditch attempt to do away with his son thereby Vaishnavism? Anyway, you were killed. Prahlada came out. Eventually Hiranya was also killed. And today people celebrate Holi to commemorate the triumph of good over evil. My sister, in what sense you were a bad woman? Nowhere it is said that you had killed people or wanted to rule over the kingdom. You were not a threat to anybody. Did your brother secretly fear your virtues? Or like any brother of that time, had he thought that once he was decimated by the Vaishnavaites, you would be taken forcefully into their harem? So was it a sort of honour killing done in advance in a neat and clear way?


They have done it before and after too. Years later, when Ram went to the forest, Tataka, a Yaksha woman was ruling there. She was self willed. And the sages detested her. So Rama killed her. Later, Ravana’s sister-in-law Soorpanakha wanted to have Ram as her lover. She tried. But what did she get in return? Lakshman chopped off her breasts and nose. Don’t you think that it was the cruellest act that a man could do to a woman? Ram could have asked her to go back as he was so benevolent to everyone. Or Lakshmana could have dissuaded her and sent her back. Nothing happened. They just disfigured her. Don’t you get the message? If you have your own will and you happened to be a woman, you will be physically disfigured, killing your very dignity and soul. Had it been a goddess, an Aryan goddess, could they have done the same to her? Or was it like, Aryan goddesses would not go behind men? So having dark skin and living in south was a problem then. Or living in North and still having dark skin was a problem. You were taken for a slut.

Perhaps, it was good for you. The immediate burning and death. Prahlada came out triumphantly. Future kings and defectors are always like that. Look at Vibhishana. He deserted his brother and came to Ram’s camp and later on he became the king of Lanka. It was good for him. What did you get? The annual torture of death by fire. And they say the name Holi comes from your name Holika. May be it is the first time in mythology that a festival gets its name from a vile woman. We don’t celebrate Panchali’s disrobing. We don’t celebrate Sita’s disappearance into earth. Why. Was it because they were equally dispensable like you? Or they were part of the Aryan discourse? You, the she-devil, the one who foolishly thought fire would not affect you finally got your recognition in a colourful festival. Such an irony. But remember now only your name is attached to the festival. People have forgotten you.


They call it the arrival of spring. When flowers bloom, winds blow and lovers feel terribly lonely or intensely passionate, they want to mark the moments with a festival. Myths connect it to Krishna and Radha. Krishna used to tease Radha by throwing colours at her and other gopikas. Krishna’s friends followed the suit. Then it became trend. They call out, Buran na mano holi hai, Don’t feel bad it is Holi. It is an anticipatory bail and an impending threat to the hapless girls from strange boys. We are going to smear you with colours and along with that we are going to do with whatever we want to do with you. Don’t feel bad. It is holi. This legend, now accepted by the mainsteam Hindu fold has become a covert license for many hooligans. People have finally started detesting this festival. Middleclass neighbourhoods have already started showing their low enthusiasm towards it.

During our nation building time, my Holika, they used to play Holi as a part of national integration. On this day people come out to share their happiness. They shared sweets and embraced each other. They thought that together they made a good nation through a cultural activity. Slowly it turned away from the cultural and integrationist aspects of it. It became an occasion for people to eat more chicken and drink more alcohol. Chicken and Alcohol when mixed with the suppressed Indian male libido, Holi becomes one of the most atrocious festivals in the world. During the last Holi, from my terrace I saw how a ‘senior most’ Bhabhi of a joint family down there getting literally groped by her brothers-in-law and other male members of the family in a drunken spree. Finally, a very elderly man had to intervene to stop the young men from touching their revered Bhabhi in the places where they had been craving to touch the day she entered that family.

(Sati practice)

May be I don’t like people touching me that’s why I don’t like playing Holi. For the sake of middle class social norms, when neighbours come to meet me at home with their colours I succumb to their colours and hugs like a helpless sacrificial lamb. They invite me to drink and I refuse to join them. In a year three hundred and sixty four days they are all out there to prove who is better than the other and on the Holi day they wanted to say that ‘we are one’. I tell them to get lost, at least in my mind. I am against all religion based organizations and establishments, and even rituals that infringe upon individual rights and dignity. I don’t like people hugging me. I don’t like putting colours on somebody’s face or body because I have felt the kind of violence on my body when others do it. It is sheer violence. What pleasure does one get by doing it? I just don’t understand. If someone tells me that it is done for national culture and tradition I will ask them to go and live in Middle Ages.


Dear Holika, in my mind you are not burnt. You had come out of the fire without any burn or injury. But how could they accept it? They need to do away with you, then only they can co-opt you in their mythologies. I know about someone who has been doing penance in five fires for so many years. Her name is Uma. And I am Shiva. I worship you both and I don’t play Holi.

Love and respect,

Shiva aka JohnyML

1 comment:

joicy said...

a very nice commentary and analysis of many of our misunderstood myths and beliefs and unreflected acts.