Celebrating Purim and Holi
Chag Purim Sameach and happy Holi! May you have a joyous and exultant festival with your friends and family. Purim and Holi are two different festivals, emanating from two different socio-cultural milieus, with contextual differences of people, eras and empires in their respective legends, but ideological similarity underlying their celebration, commemorating the victory of Jews and the Hindu prince Prahlad over tyranny.
While Purim is the Jewish festival commemorating the survival of the Jews due to the efforts of Esther, against the diabolical plot of Haman the chief minister of the Persian King Ahaseurus, to annihilate them in the Persian empire; Holi is a Hindu festival commemorating the survival of Prahlada a God loving prince from the diabolical plan of his father Hiranyakashipu plotting with his sister Holika to murder Prahlada for his devotion to God.
Both Jews and Prahlad had tyrants committed to cause their death but they defeated them, survived and emerged victorious. Jews and Hindus celebrate this victory.
Purim and Holi in India
Purim is celebrated around the same time as the Indian festival of Holi. There are so many similarities in the celebration of these festivals in India that readers will be amazed. In Mumbai India, Purim is celebrated by singing, ‘Esther Ranichi Katha’ — the tale of Queen Esther – sung to Hindu temple tunes accompanied by musical instruments like Dholak, Cymbals, Harmonium and Bulbul Tarang, it is sung in Marathi verses and Ovi metres interspersed with Hebrew words featuring Biblical figures. Ovi is one of the “oldest Marathi song genres still performed today”. It has been in use since the 13th century in written poetry; however, oral traditions of women’s Ovi pre-date the literary Ovi. In same Mumbai, and other parts of India Holi is celebrated by singing kirtans dedicated to Hindu deities Krishna and Radha.
“Holi, Holi, purnachi poli” so goes a Marathi rhyme, because in Maharashtra in India eating Puran Poli an India sweet flatbread is a gastronomical custom associated with the festival of Holi and guess what the same custom is followed in the celebration of Purim in India.
The author knows many western Jews reading this must be surprised, because the special treat associated with Purim in west is Hamantaschen cookies, but religious customs are not the same around the world even though they are of the same faith.
It is a Bene Israeli cultural practice to eat Puran Poli on Purim, an Indian flat bread made with sweet lentils and jaggery (In the language Marathi, puran is the sweet filling, and poli is the bread.) This sweet is also traditionally eaten on Holi (so this is likely where the Indian Purim custom originated). After reading this the author feels that readers would like to know in more detail the origin legend of this Hindu festival called Holi.
The legend of Holi
“You (Prahlad) are the best example of My (Krishna or Vishnu) devotee, and others should follow in your footsteps.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 7.10.21)
The Hindu epic text the Bhagavata Purana narrates the stories of the avatars of Vishnu the Hindu deity of preservation. In the legend of Prahlad, his father the demon king Hiranyakashipu turns against him for his devotion to Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu’s enemy, who killed his brother while in his boar incarnation, Varaha. The Hindu deity Brahma the deity of creation, grants Hiranyakashipu a wish that he cannot be killed by any human or animal, neither inside nor outside, neither during the day nor at night.
Hiranyakashipu tries to kill Prahlad several times but is unsuccessful then he makes a plan with Holika his sister, to kill Prahlad. Holika had a boon that she could walk through the fire unharmed to do away with his son. The wicked aunt agreed to the evil desires of his brother and entered the fire with her nephew Prahlad. What both the evil brother and sister forgot was that Holika could only enter the fire alone or she would perish. Thus, blessed by Lord Vishnu, the child Prahlad remained unharmed but Holika got burnt and died instantly. Holi is thus celebrated to commemorate the death of the evil aunt, after whom the festival is named, and the new life granted to Prahlad for his devotion and faith.
Even Hiranyakashipu meets his end even though he had the boon given by Brahma, Vishnu does eventually kill him in his Naramsimha (Narsingh), half-man half-lion, avatar on the threshold of his palace at twilight.
Purim and Holi Celebrations
Both Purim and Holi are joyous festivals celebrated with parties, costume parades, feasts and philanthropy. There is sweetness in both. Though both Marathi Hindus and Marathi Jews eat Puran Poli on both these festivals; unlike them rest of the Hindus eat Gujjiya a sweet dish and rest of the Jews eat Hamantaschen or Purim cookies on Holi and Purim respectively. In a world where power politics and violence has been dividing people, festivals like these unite us, let us celebrate them with friends and family and defeat hate. Chag Purim Sameach and happy Holi!