The country is engulfed in a festive fervour for holi, the festival of colours, that marks the end of winters and beginning of spring. Holi will be celebrated countrywide on Thursday and the ritual of Holika Dahan or burning the effigy Holika in the evening or late night will be performed on Wednesday. The Dahan is performed during the Pradosh Kaal (post sunset) while Purnimasi Tithi prevails. As per the Hindu Lunar calendar, Holika Dahan concurs with the full moon day in the month of Phalgun, a day which is also known as Phalgun Purnima.
On Holika Dahan, holy bonfires are burnt on open spaces, signifying the victory of good over evil. The legend of Prahlad, Holika and Hiranyakashyap is associated with it. Roasted cereals are offered to the bonfire and people sing and dance around it. Devotees offer water, turmeric, coconut to the bonfire and seek blessings for a joyous life (the offerings may vary from region to region).
According to drikpanchang.com, Holika Dahan timings are:
Holika Dahan Muhurat: 8:58 pm (March 21) to 12:34 am (March 22)
Duration: 3 Hours 36 Mins
Bhadra Punchha: 5:24 PM to 6:25 PM
Bhadra Mukha: 6:25 to 08:07 PM
Legend behind Holika Dahan:
The legend has it that a young boy named Prahlad was devoted to lord Vishnu. Prahlad’s father, the evil king did not like his son’s ardent devotion towards lord Vishnu and wanted him to give up his faith in the god and stop worshiping him. When Prahlad refused to do so and Hiranyakashyap tried to kill him. Hiranyakashyap's sister Holika had a divine blessing that she will not be burnt by fire. The king made Prahlad sit in Holika's lap and set the two on fire. With the blessings of Lord Vishnu, Prahlad, who kept chanting his name, remain untouched, but it was Holika who started to scream, the fire did not save her this time. Lord Vishnu appeared in his magnanimous Narasimha avatar and so the Holika Dahan puja is dedicated to the Narasimha avatar. In this avatar, the lord appears as half-man and half-lion. He took this unusual form to end all atrocities committed by the greedy Hiranyakashyapu.
While some legend say that the blessing was applicable only when she sits alone in the fire, other legends refer to a shawl or a 'magical' piece of cloth that saved her from fire. It says that with the blessing of Lord Vishnu, a strong wind blew and covered Prahlad with that shawl, saving him, while Holika burnt to death. With this legend, the tradition of Holika Dahan came into practice signifying the victory of good over evil.