In India, where my family is from, we celebrate the start of spring by throwing crazy colored powder at each other! Intrigued? Read on…
Here are some things you might not know about the spectacular Hindu festival of Holi:
Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
The main celebration involves tossing gulal (or colored powder) into the air (and at each other) to completely coat yourself and your friends in spectacular form. The serious purpose behind it all is to celebrate fertility, love and the end of winter (or beginning of Spring). It is a festive day to meet your friends, play and laugh and to repair broken relationships. The holiday is based on the lunar calendar so it differs year-to-year, but generally Holi occurs in late February or early March, according to the Gregorian calendar.
There are many different stories for how Holi started, but here is my favorite:
The legend of Krishna and Radha. Krishna (a god) fell in love with Radha (a goddess), but was concerned about differences in their skin color, his being blue. His mother advised him to playfully paint her face to overcome their differences. That tradition is carried on by couples today.
Holi is usually a two-day event (although it takes place over 16 days in the Braj region).
The first night is called Holika Dahan. It involves a bonfire made of logs and dung-cakes. People pray over the fire to destroy their internal evil and enhance their internal good. Families also roast grain, popcorn, coconuts and chickpeas together. I know it sounds a bit odd to do this over a dung-cake fire, but hey, you make do with what you have (and I assure you, you can’t taste anything weird)!
The second day, Rangwali Holi (“colourful Holi”) is a free-for-all carnival of colors, water guns and water balloons, to ensure everyone gets equal treatment: friends, strangers, rich or poor, man or woman, child or elder. It occurs on the streets, in parks, in temples, outside apartment buildings, pretty much everywhere! People sing, dance and bang drums to make the celebrations as raucous as possible.
After the celebrations everybody cleans up and dresses up to visit friends and family and eat huge meals (and sweets!) together.
Tips for playing Holi:
Moisturize your skin and oil your hair carefully before playing, so the gulal can be easily washed out. Trust me — you don’t want to be blue for days to come (cue: “I’m blue, da boo dee, da boo DYE”)! Use non-harmful dyes. Typically organic gulal is made from dried flowers or food dye and flour.
It is a great time to visit India!
With one huge caveat…..play safely. I cannot emphasize this enough. India still has a long way to go with women’s (and men’s) safety. If you are planning to go to India and participate in the Holi festivities, please plan to go to an Embassy’s event, with friends, or to a hotel event. Do not go out on the street and play with local people. You may see this as elitist or “Western-centric” but local boys tend to play Holi hard and rough. They beat each other with “lathis” (wooden sticks), drink “bhang” (a lethal milk and almond concoction whose main ingredient is marijuana), along with the regular water balloon attacks and excess alcohol consumption. Just trust me. It is a fun celebration, but some people take it way too far.
Happy Holi and Happy Spring!