Today, millions of people will celebrate the Hindu festival Holi. In the West, we know this holiday as the festival of colors. We know it because of Hollywood scenes like the one from Outsourced, where the unsuspecting American gets doused with color on a stroll through the city. During our travels in India, we have often celebrated this color party with friends and neighbors, usually in the controlled environment of our parking garages and gardens. Of course, as with almost every facet of Hinduism, there is as much variety to the celebrations and traditions as there are people groups and languages in this diverse country. And unfortunately, the celebration you are able to witness below is pretty boring compared to the movies, or what you may find in more northern parts of the country.
This year, I am watching the color throwing from my seventh floor apartment. From one balcony I can see the upper middle class children in my society, planning and strategizing their assaults on one another. From the other balcony, I see the less financially fortunate, but equally joyful adults and children chasing each other through the streets. I worry for the passerbys who might find themselves in the midst of the war! I can't help but wonder what it might be like if the meaning behind the festival, good conquering evil, could conquer both the visible and invisible walls between these two groups.
We are not joining the festivities this year because our city is struggling from a huge water crisis. The color throwing uses not only color, but a lot of water. The water and color are mixed and shot from cheap water guns, sold only this time of year. And then there is the water it takes to clean everyone up. The knowledge of those suffering from lack of water presses our conscience and robs the celebration of its joy. It is inspiring to see some initiatives to celebrate without wasting so much water. For instance, one of our friends is hosting a 'paint the canvas' party. Additionally, the celebration of Holi is not just about the color party. In fact, the more I researched I discovered that it is not even the main part of the holiday. Although, it is likely the most enjoyable and the most financially profitable part of the holiday.
Surrounding the traditions of Holi are many different legends, and they all add small pieces to the Holi traditions, which again vary greatly in different regions of the country. The major legend is of the evil Hiranyakashyap who contrived an evil plot to kill his own son. The plan backfired and resulted in the death of his accomplis, Holika. A traditional Holi celebration commemorates this story with a bonfire, in which pictures of Holika are burned and where profanities are shouted against the hated woman.
The tradition of colors comes from a legend of Krishna, who was jealous of Radha because of her fair skin. Krishna's mother pacified him by telling him to go paint her any color he liked. The always mischievous Krishna did just that. Now the painting of one another has come to symbolize the love and affection between family and friends.
In addition, Holi always occurs toward the end of winter and beginning of spring/summer, which also carries the significance of good triumphing over evil, as the light and beauty of spring triumphs over the cold and darkness of winter.
You can check out more about the origins of Holi and the various celebrations taking place across India at www.holifestival.org.
Luke and I are married and have four little munchkins that travel the world with us. I blog about living overseas, travel, kids, education and graphic design.
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