Yesterday, the day before the Hindu festival of Holi, wherein colors are tossed about like confetti to symbolize, some say, the power of faith over death, color photos of the Eos Chaos region of Mars were sent back to Earth by by Mangalyaan – India’s first spacecraft to Mars.
I’ve always liked the idea of a frenzied, joyful, color-rich holiday that’s practically got my name stamped on it. But the usual story casts Holika as a female demon who schemes with her selfish brother to kill his own son, simply because the son refuses to worship his father as a god. As a fable of the triumph of faith and miracles performed by gods on behalf of the faithful, it’s fine – but as an author and a woman who is tired of seeing women continually paying the price for myths invented by men, I prefer the version that portrays Holika as a loving aunt who wraps her nephew in her own cloak of protection and burns in the fire in his place. Perhaps she didn’t want to be manipulated by her brother, anymore, and played her part in thwarting the father while protecting the son.
I feel the same way about the Garden of Eden story. If we accept it at face value, why aren’t men ashamed of being weak-willed creatures who couldn’t protect or lead by example? Instead, they would focus on punishing the temptress who stupidly or cunningly cast her lot with the devil himself. I’d rather see the whole story as a “coming of age” story, wherein both men and women move from the wholly innocent and protected state of childhood into full adulthood, with greater knowledge and open eyes, but also with newfound risks, responsibilities, and consequences inherent in having earned or demanded “free will.” Just as a parent reluctantly – but also proudly – lets go of the reins and watches the child become an adult, so does the creator of Adam and Eve – even if it means that they will now suffer pain and maybe die as a result of their poor choices.
We all make choices. Are our religious fables a crutch on which to lean and an excuse to blame God or others for our flaws? Or are they cautionary tales that warn us there are always consequences to the choices that we make? At least, in the story of Holika, there is a choice among choices – either Holi is an evil demoness in thrall to her cruel and faithless brother who has put himself ahead of all creation, or a loving aunt who uses her one special gift – a cloak that would save her from the fire – to protect her nephew, instead. I think that which interpretation we choose to believe, and why, says something about us.
There is another interpretation of Holi that makes sense to me: “Holi is an experience of living in harmony with the existence. It is being in the Spirit of existence itself. When you are One with the existence, nothing harms you.” If this is so, then Holi was not consumed with the flames – and knew that she wouldn’t be. She lives on in the colors of the universe, itself.