Nepal is a land of many myths, with most being even taller than our famed Sagarmatha! One such myth is the story behind Holi. Like most festivals, it is a celebration of good over evil. Here’s the story: once upon a time, ages ago, there was an ambitious king (as are all kings) with the imposing name of Hiranayakashyapu, He was all-powerful—ruler of all that lay beneath heaven—but that was exactly where his dissatisfaction lay. He wanted to be as powerful as the heavenly gods themselves.
He wanted to be immortal! Now, in those days, rigorous tapasya (penance), along with severe and prolonged fasting, was apparently the way to get the attention of the gods (there are umpteen myths along this line). So, that’s what he did, begging Brahma, the Lord of Creation, to grant him his wish, but at the same time, he had doubts about whether immortality was something that would be granted to mere mortals (a paradox, if ever there was one!). So, to be on the safe side, he has a different wish list ready, just in case. Well, came the day when the gods could not ignore him any longer, and he is asked to state what he wants from them.
The wily king states very humbly that he wants to be blessed with five powers (which he well knows will guarantee near invincibility). His wish list is as follows: that, no animal or beast will be able to kill him, whether indoors or outdoors, on land, in water, or in the air, in the day or at night, and neither by handheld weapon (shastra) nor by projectile weapon (astra). The severity of the king’s tapasya must indeed have impressed Brahma, for he agrees to fulfill the king’s wishes.
The king’s ambition now reaches new heights, and he decrees that no other god will be worshipped in his kingdom henceforth, for he is now no less than a god himself! Of course, there is no question of his terrified subjects disobeying, however, there’s a twist in the tale. The king’s own nephew Prahlad continues to pay homage to Lord Vishnu, and despite being warned, refuses to stop doing so, for his devotion is strong.
Many times, the king, through subtle ways, tries to have him killed, but fails. Finally, he seeks his sister Holika’s help. Now, she too is no mere mortal, having received the gods’ blessings for a super power of her own, immunity from fire; she is said to have a cloak that is fire-proof. So, after coaxing Prahlad to sit on her lap, she herself sits down on a raging bonfire. However, in the heat of the moment, the cloak comes loose and wraps around Prahlad instead, burning her to death, while the kid remains safe.
Expectedly, Lord Vishnu is enraged at such a plot to kill his favorite devotee, and himself plots a strategy to have the evil king killed. Assuming the form of a half-human, half-lion creature (Narasimha), at the exact moment between day and night (dusk), he carries the king to a site that is neither indoor nor outdoor (doorstep). With his victim on his lap (neither land, water, or air), he disembowels him with his wickedly curving claws (not astra, nor shastra).
That’s the story behind the celebration of Holi, and the night before the big day, a huge bonfire is made in Tudikhel in Kathmandu, signifying the burning of Holika..