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Holi: The Mass American Misconception

Daniel Carvalheiro-Santos, Staff Writer

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Many Americans are fascinated by the strange yet intriguing Indian celebration of Holi, dubbed by many as the Festival of Color. Although it is referred to, even in India, as the Festival of Color or Love, this HOLIday as a deeper significance. Besides the Festival of Diwali, Holi is possibly the most important Hindu HOLIday and definitely the most internationally renowned, on account of its flamboyance of the event.

The Festival of Holi is Hindu commemoration of good’s triumph over evil and the start of spring. Originally dating back to the 4th century, this Hindu holiday is loosely based on a number of ancient Vedic texts and traditions. In the Braj region of India (Central India), where it is believed the deity Krishna was raised, Holi has become a celebration of Krishna and his divine love for Radha. Legend has it, that Krishna, with darker skin than most due to a skin deformity he got when his milk was poisoned by a demon, was worried that his complexion would scare off the fair-skinned girls, particularly Radha; He asked his mother how she thought he should proceed. Tired of seeing her son in constant despair, Krishna’s mother suggested that he use vibrant powders to color Radha’s face whatever color he desired. This legend is one of the most probable inspirations for the festival which involves throwing similar vibrant colored powders at one another as a symbol of rebirth and new beginnings. Some Hindus believe Holi is a celebration of Holika Dahan, arguing that this is where the name “Holi” comes from. There are many other traditional customs that show origin stories, however, I find these to be the most compelling. Regardless of your tenet on the Festival of Holi, all Hindus agree that Holi is a festival of forgetting past errors and renewing oneself’s state of being. Whether it be by forgiving a neighbor, paying a debt, or ending past conflicts, Hindus manage to bury the hatchet and spring from the roots of the Vedic texts into a new and improved person through their spirituality.

Holi takes place on the last full moon day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month and lasts for one day and one night while people celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The first evening is known as the Holika Dahan or Choti Holi. During this night, Indian locals gather in their public places and light massive bonfires sometimes spanning 20 feet in diameter. These bonfires are symbolic and represent the burning of the demonic known as Holika, who captured Hindu gods and goddesses and tortured them. On Holika Dahan, Vishnu is credited with destroying Holika and her family and stopping the massacres. Locals sing and dance around the fires, rejoicing in the fact that evil has disappeared and they could now live peacefully. In some towns in India, Hindu priests run through the bonfires in reverence and sacrifice, entertaining the crowd and calling people from around India to witness these “miracles”. On the next morning, the fun begins. Locals gather on the streets with bags and plate of gulal. Gulal is a vibrant and colorful powder used in various Hindu rituals. This powder is then dispersed and thrown at the locals. As they throw the powder at one another, faithful Hindus sing and dance in an unparalleled display of happiness. The gulal and its appearance in this HOLIday represent the equality and humanity this festival brings to all; once one is covered with gulal, caste, race, and social status disappears and the true person is revealed. After a mess is made and the annual gulal supply has been exhausted, Hindus return to their homes, dress up, and spend time with friends and family.  

The Festival of Colors and Love is an exceptional HOLIday, revealing the inherent qualities and values of Hindu faith. This celebration is, to Americans, unorthodox and unusual, yet I think many of us wouldn’t mind partaking in a secular gulal bash. In conclusion, I would like to quote the Indian poet, “you can’t have the holiday without Holi.”

 

Photo Credits to Kiran Finn

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