Holi is celebrated as a festival of the triumph of good over evil. It is part of the legend of the Hindu God, Vishnu, and the Legend of Dol Purnima. There are similar stories in all cultures. Holi is a bit like the story behind Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth is told he is invincible; that he cannot be killed by any man born of a woman. He will never be vanquished until the forests of Birnam march Dunsinane Hill.
Like Macbeth, King Hiranyakashipu of the demonic Asuras was promised five special powers to protect him. He could be killed by:
- neither a human being nor an animal,
- neither indoors nor outdoors
- neither at day nor at night,
neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons)
- neither on land nor in water or air.
Hiranyakashipu grew arrogant. He thought he was God, and demanded all subjects worship only him.
Ultimately, he was confronted by Vishnu, who took the form of a half-human and half-lion (neither a human nor an animal), at dusk (neither day nor night). Vishnu took Hiranyakashipu at a doorstep (neither indoors nor outdoors), placed him on his lap (neither land, water nor air), and eviscerated the king with his lion claws (neither a handheld weapon nor a launched weapon).
The Holika bonfire and Holi celebrate this victory of good over evil.