There was once a demon king by the name of Hiranyakashyap who won over the kingdom of earth. He was so egoistic that he commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship him as God. He cut off the heads of those who disobeyed. Fearing for their lives, everyone in the kingdom started chanting Hiranyakashyap’s name.
Meanwhile, Sage Narada-a great devotee of Lord Vishnu- happened to visit the Palance. Hiranyakashyap was away from the palace. The Sage was hence brought to the presence of the pregnant queen. The Sage spoke at length about Lord Vishnu and sang several hymns which left the queen in awe. She too had been chanting Hiranyakashyap’s name and knew about no other god. The child in the queen’s womb also listened to the sage’s speech and was overcome by devotion.
Soon, a boy was born to Hiranyakashyap. He named the boy Prahlad-meaning joyful. But to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana and refused to worship his father.
Prahlad was sent to the best teachers in the kingdom. The teachers tried their best to make the boy chant Hiranyakashyap’s name. But the boy’s devotion was so pure that in the end, everyone on the school had turned into a devotee of Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap was at his wits end now. He decided that since he cannot change his son, he might as well do away with him. He tried several ways to kill his son Prahlad but Lord Vishnu saved him every time.
Finally, he asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. For, Hiranyakashyap knew that Holika had a boon, whereby, she could enter the fire unscathed.
Treacherously, Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap and she herself took her seat in a blazing fire. The legend has it that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life. Holika was not aware that the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone.
Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Lord Naarayana all this while, came out unharmed, as the lord blessed him for his extreme devotion.
Thus, Holi derives its name from Holika. And, is celebrated as a festival of victory of good over evil.
Holi is also celebrated as the triumph of a devotee. As the legend depicts that anybody, howsoever strong, cannot harm a true devotee. And, those who dare torture a true devotee of god will have to pay a heavy price.