Phalguna Purnima – The narratives and the normative


S. Ainavolu

3/14/2022 5 min read

Phalguna Purnima – The narratives and the normative

The Vedic calendar ends with the month of Phalguna. Purnima, the full moon day in the month of Phalguna is celebrated as Kama Dahana festival, popularly known as Holi. Phalguna marks the middle of the spring season and is often very pleasant in many parts of the country. When the month quickly comes to an end, the year too ends. Due to the difference in following Chandramana or Souramana (Moon or Sun centred calendaring method), the year start may be a couple of weeks separated for the followers. The new year starts with the month of Chaitra, the first day of which is celebrated as the Ugadi, Gudi Parva or equivalent in a few other parts of the country. Mostly it happens around March end or the beginning of April. Thus, a few parts of India that change to new year with Sun transit in April shall have their new year around the middle of April. Examples are Baisakhi and Poila Baisakh. With roots in Chandramana tradition, this seeker looked forward to the festival of Ugadi. But the closure of the year happens colourfully and on a buoyant note with Kama Dahana and Holi, happening around Phalguna Purnima. This was of particular interest too as the one who provided the pitru chhaya to this seeker entered this world in his physical form on Phalguna Purnima night.

Radha Krishna narrative

Phalguna Purnima festivities have different narratives. The popular form of Holi captures the attention of many. It is the festival of colours and often is associated with Braj bhumi. The Radha-Krishna narrative is straight and appeals to young and old alike. While the Rasaleela of Radha and Krishna is of higher orbits of spiritual significance, the mundane world perceived Holi festival in a more physical form. The exchange and forced application of hard colours and banter among circles often communicated a not-so-subtle version of the festival's celebration. The subtle art of applying colours as a celebration can be seen even in current times during Sindoor khela during Durga Puja festivities in Bangla. The subtle art of exchange of greetings with soothing colours gave way to forceful methods. Physical violence and force usage too are often heard during nuances of the festival. One wise view is that the gentle art of greeting can’t give way to abuses and harsh means of defacing.

Holika dahan

Another popular version of the festive cause is the narrative of Holika dahan. In the Bhagavata Purana the story of Hiranyaksha and Hiranya Kashyapa appears. Hiranyaksha was eliminated by Varaha avatar of Vishnu. Hiranya Kashyapa did an aggravating tapasya and ends up getting a boon of “almost impossible death”. If he were to die, then it can not happen with any form of existence, neither during day nor night, neither in air nor on land etc. He unleashes violence on the world subsequent to the above boon. Incidentally his son Prahlada turns into Vishnu devotee and father’s sworn enemy was Vishnu. He troubled his son by various means to mend his ways. One of the methods was to ask his sister Holika who doesn’t get affected by fire to take the kid in her lap into the fire. As the incident unfolds, Prahlada gets saved and Holika gets burnt. Later as an avatar of Vishnu, Nara-Simha (half man and half lion) eliminates Hiranya Kashyapa. It is said that Holika Dahan is celebrated as Holi, as a sign of “good” winning. The bonfire that is set represents Holika, as is said.

Kaama Dahan

Another powerful narrative associated with the Phalguna Purnima is the Kaama Dahana. Shiva was married to Sati, the daughter of Daksha, one of the Prajapatis. Daksha plans a great fire sacrifice (Yagya/havan) and intentionally, he skips the invitation to Sati and Shiva. Shiva is embodiment of the power in the universe and additionally his son-inlaw. Still he ignores him, probably with an intent to “insult” him. One who is spread in ALL and ONE in all can’t be insulted is the simple fact that did not strike to Daksha, whose name actually means “capable”. Sati feels the pull to visit her parental place as all her siblings and relatives might congregate there. Shiva dissuades. Sati cites the rule that one may visit a few select places like parental / guru’s etc. even if uninvited. Self-inviting can be the practice. Shiva sends her off with a few of his ganas. What followed is a poignant story. Daksha indulges in Shiva dushana, abusing Shiva in public. Sati was agitated and declared that having heard the abuse of Shiva, she can’t continue in the same body. Using yogagni, she leaves the body.

Shiva learns about what happened, creates Veerabhadra out of his jhata (hair) and gives him the mandate to destroy Daksha’s kratu. Daksha was beheaded. Shiva was still greatly agitated. To find a way out, Vishnu arranges the body of Sati into different pieces and where these pieces fell become “Shakti peethas”. Ashtadasha or eighteen is the sacred number of such sites. Shiva retires to pursue his intense sadhana and was hosted by Himavanta, the king of the Himalayas. Sati took new birth as the daughter of Himavanta and was named Parvati.

Meanwhile, the demon called Taraka performs great tapas and manages a boon that nobody should be able to kill him except "son of Shiva." This was a clever act as he knew that Shiva has no son so far, and currently, Shiva is wifeless and is in deep meditation. The devatas request the cupid lord Kaama or the Manmatha to get Shiva out of his intense meditation so that he may resume grihasta status again to beget a son who eventually shall kill Taraka. Long mandate one may feel, but Manmatha agreed. Holistically understanding, Man-matha means “who churns the manas”. Parvati was serving Shiva silently and deeply desired to have him as her husband. Her sadhana too peaked with she giving up all eatables including the leaves (parna). Thus, she got the apt name of “Aparna”, not even “leaves eating”!

Manmatha or the Kaama distracts the tapas of Shiva and gets reduced to ashes when Shiva stares at him angrily. However, having returned to “this world,” Shiva marries Parvati, and both get the mighty son called Kumara. As was promised to Taraka, Kumara alone could kill Taraka, and he does so, freeing the world from suffering in the demonic hands. This Kaama dahana happened on Phalguna Purnima. Thus, the festival marks, in addition to Kaama dahana, the “Kumara sambhava”, begetting of the able son who killed Taraka.

The normative

The occasion of Phalguna Purnima reminds us of many happenings. Daksha, though was a learned person, indulged in the unimaginable. He insulted the almighty and omnipresent Shiva. His end came due to this. Veerabhadra proved to be the most loyal serving son. He helped the congregation learn the right lessons. Taraka’s negative karma was of making the good suffer. His end comes because of this. Manmatha or the Kaama goes out of their way to help the world. Though temporarily he suffered, he got restored upon the prayers of his wife Rati to mother Goddess. He earned an eternal good name. For the good people aiming at helping the situations, there is no long-suffering can be the lesson. Good shall return to them. Kumara is also known as Skanda. He commanded the divine forces to victory. Figuratively too, his consort is called “Devasena”. He is an embodiment of power and jnana. He gave Pranava upadesha to Shiva, his father. Shiva demonstrated that we should be open to learning from NextGen too! The best normative that can happen are - replicating the good acts and avoiding the slippery ones. The holy occasions like Phalguna Purnima remind us and help us stay on the right path. Being on the right path and not slipping down is essential, and it helps the seeker practice these two consciously and continuously. Tamasoma jyotirgamaya.