I am a sucker for festivities, but one of my favorite holidays is the Indian festival of colors called “Holi.” Holi is one of the major festivals across the country and is significant for many reasons.
Holi marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring in much of India (wish that was true for New York!). As the cold recedes and leaves begin to sprout, this festival marks the spirit of letting go of the old (and cold!) and looking forward to new beginnings.
Holi is typically a two-day long festival. The first day is the religious one that represents the victory of good over evil (a prominent theme in many Indian festivals – yes, we rinse and repeat). Large bonfires are arranged in communities where people gather up to share the warmth and metaphorically “burn their evils” in the fire. The second (and more fun) day of Holi is celebrated by (literally) “playing with colors.”
It is also the festival of love as it celebrates the love between deity Krishna and his beloved Radha. Families and communities get together to paint each other’s faces with a colored powder called “Gulaal.” While some people prefer to lovingly put a speck of color on each other’s cheeks, many decide to get down and dirty and take it to the streets.
Bright colors of Gulaal fill the air and people take turns spritzing each other with colored water. Children take special delight in throwing water balloons like paintballs (except more fun!). There is laughter, cheer, music (and a bit of madness) on the streets as people – friends, family, and strangers get together to PLAY.
But what I truly love the most about Holi is its colors. There is something about colors that brings me instant joy. Perhaps it’s the memories of a childhood full of colors etched in my subconscious.
I grew up in a world that was full of colors. I don’t know if it is about the tropical climate or a rich history but Indians love colors. We embrace the bright magentas, electric blues, and psychedelic yellows. We pair purples with reds, greens with magentas and are not afraid to throw some gold in. One still photograph from any wedding anywhere in India will likely showcase all the colors of a rainbow. There are a handful of festivals with a color code (yellow for spring, green for monsoons) when the entire cities erupt into a human wave of one color.
From the bright orange marigold flowers that adorn almost every celebration to the deep hues of red or green that deck up a bride, colors are an integral part of Indian culture. And in some ways, the colors symbolize the rich diversity of India. In a country where hundreds of languages, thousands of tribes and many different religions coexist, a deep understanding of prevalent diversity is perhaps the only common thread that ties its people together. And festivals like Holi celebrate the magnificent dynamism of the Indian kaleidoscope.
In the last 15 years since I have lived in the United States, my appetite for colors has significantly reduced. I have embraced the beiges and pastels. And while I have learned to appreciate the beauty of dreamy white and the magic of the “little black dress,” I still sometimes miss the mosaic of bright colors that is India.