“Then all the men and women of the city happily went to play Holi. Seeing Rama’s face, their hearts were full of happiness and attachment that cannot be measured.” (Gitavali, 310.5)
nagara-nāri-nara hara।sita saba cale khelana phāgu |
dekhi rāma cabi atulita umagata ura anurāga ||
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is a mine of politeness. He is not just a little bit kind or a little bit nice. He truly wishes for the happiness of every single creature, large or small, young or old. He is intimately tied to them forever, as they are His eternal fragmental parts. They are struggling with the six senses in the material existence due to conditioned life. When they are fortunate enough to take to bhakti-yoga, which is service to Him joyfully performed, they no longer struggle. Every moment in that engagement calls for festivities, and the delineated holidays bring even more happiness. The celebration of Holi in the kingdom of Shri Rama is one such example.
rāja-vidyā rāja-guhyaṁpavitram idam uttamampratyakṣāvagamaṁ dharmyaṁsu-sukhaṁ kartum avyayam
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
What is material life? Why is it a struggle? What is the purpose to an existence in it? Among those who are religiously inclined, there are two common outlooks on how life should be lived. The first says that God demands penance from the population that is full of sinners. Each person has sinned for too long, and so they need to repent for what they have done. They have forgotten the Supreme Lord and so they should forgo all enjoyments that keep them forgetful of Him.
Vedic philosophy concurs with these sentiments. The living entity is a spirit soul at the core. They are eternally linked to the supreme spirit in a relationship described as achintya-bheda-bheda-tattva. This is simultaneous oneness and difference. God is spirit and so is the individual. Both are the same qualitatively, but quantitatively there is a large gap. This combined difference and equality is inconceivable; the mind cannot fully grasp it.
The material existence is where the eternally linked individual souls separate from God. Total separation is not there; only in consciousness. The material elements are the inferior, external energy of God. The individual souls mistakenly identify with the material elements instead of spirit. Therefore they struggle. Human life is meant for tapasya, or austerity, specifically to regain the original consciousness, the understanding of one’s true identity.
The second outlook says that life is meant to be enjoyed. God created everything, after all. The hills, the mountains, the flowers, the plants, the trees, the air, the water - all these things are for man to use. What is the harm in having fun? If the Supreme Lord is really the best person, He must be the kindest. He must be compassionate upon the fallen. He must desire for them to be happy.
Vedic philosophy concurs with these sentiments too. The Supreme Lord is said to be all-attractive. Therefore the best name to describe Him is Krishna. The same Krishna is also Rama, the reservoir of transcendental pleasure. The Supreme Lord always enjoys, no matter where He is. Integral to that enjoyment is the association of devoted men and women. Animals, trees and insects also live in His spiritual land. Wherever the individual finds themselves, the Supreme Lord wishes for them to be happy in service to Him.
It is this service that plays the determining factor. The idea is to always live in consciousness of God. This reconciles the conflict in the two outlooks. Enjoy life to the fullest, but don’t forget Him. Of course this is difficult to do. The path seems almost contradictory. If I enjoy with friends and family, how can I remember God? Won’t I view Him as an order supplier instead of the person with whom I am meant to enjoy?
The ideal example comes to us from the scene referenced above. Here Shri Krishna has descended to earth in His incarnation of Rama. While Krishna enjoys all the time, Rama sometimes has to lay down laws for the people to follow. He accepts the role of a warrior prince, so His day is not full of fun and games. He Himself is always in bliss, but externally through occupation He displays seriousness from time to time.
Here He is ruling over the kingdom of Ayodhya. The citizens are so happy to be governed by Him. Ayodhya at this time is truly the kingdom of God. In that kingdom there are celebrations of all sorts. Holi, the festival of colors, gets celebrated in a way we can’t fathom, with nothing held back. Holi is an ancient holiday whose origin is with devotion to God. Once a five-year old son of a king refused to give up his devotion to Krishna. The boy’s father wanted this devotion to go away, to the point that he could no longer tolerate it in his son. The king then tried to kill his son in so many ways, including placing him in a fire. The boy’s devotion defeated the father’s antagonism every time. In the incident with the fire, it was the king’s sister Holika who died. The boy Prahlada survived, and the ashes of Holika that remained have since become the iconic symbol of the holiday known as Holi.
Holi thus marks the victory of strong devotion over obstinate non-devotion. Colors are thrown about, with no person spared. The festival is meant to be in good fun, and from the example in Ayodhya we see that it is meant to be performed in full consciousness of God. Here the people got the direct sanction from Rama to start the festivities. They went to play Holi very happily. Holi is also known as Phagu, since it occurs in the month of Phalguna at the time of the full moon, Purnima.
While they played, they kept Rama’s face in mind. Goswami Tulsidas says that their attachment to Rama was so strong that it could not be measured. The people had so much love in their hearts. And of course such enjoyment of the people brought so much joy to the Supreme Lord also. In bhakti-yoga we find the true meaning to living, transcending location, physical designations and language. The people of Ayodhya show that any place can be made into the real heaven, as long as the Supreme Lord remains at the center.
As sinners repentant to be,
Or our enjoyment God should see?
Agreeing with both the Vedic conclusion,
Enjoy but with God in mind, no confusion.
Like into Holi’s festival to enter,
Ayodhya’s people keeping Rama at the center.
Though playing attachment only to grow,
Through bhakti any land becoming heaven you know.