It is 5 o’clock in the evening and I am walking home, exhausted from all the playing and dancing at the Holi Event on Campus. I can’t get enough of the stares and gazing from people all around me. I am smeared in colors from head to toe, to a point where I cannot recognize myself when I look in the mirror. I encounter this white guy in the middle of the street and he goes like “What’s the deal with all these people in color? This looks like a lot of fun. What did you guys do? And how can I join you people?” If only I had more energy to sit down and explain what the whole event was about, instead, all I could answer was that it is a festival called Holi, and he should join in next year. To be honest, I was utterly disappointed with my reply being an Indian, so here is an opportunity for me to offer my perspective.
So what is Holi after all? Why do people play with colors? What’s the significance behind it? I am sure that you are aware that it is an Indian Festival by now. So, like Diwali, which is festival of lights, Holi is an ancient Hindu Festival celebrated as the festival of colors and they both signify the victory of good over evil, hence the celebrations. It originated in India and is celebrated mostly in South Asia including India, Nepal, and Pakistan and is now gaining momentum across the globe. It falls in the month of Falgun as per the Hindu calendar which falls somewhere in between the end of February and the middle of March as per the Gregorian calendar. Typically it is spread over two days. On the evening of the first day, a public bonfire is held, where people gather and offer prayers and chants commemorating the burning of the devil Holika (thus the name Holi) as per the Hindu Traditions. The second day is celebrated as Rang Panchami, which is when all the participants play with colors. People chase each other, be it friends or strangers, and color each other with dry powder or wet colors. It is made more exciting with water balloons and water guns sprayed at each other and everything is fair game. On this day, every street, every corner, every city and village in India, showcases a common emotion through its display of colors breaking all the social barriers, be it rich or poor, men or women, young and old who partake in the celebrations.
Growing up in Mumbai, India, I have nostalgic memories of celebrating Holi, especially as a kid, when I would wait for my exams to get over, so that I could start working on my water balloons and colors, especially since I had to settle my scores with my friends from last year, aiming to hit more balloons on them. Over the years, the festival was modernized with DJ’s hired for huge events who would play the hit numbers and alcoholic drinks being served. On the day of celebration, people would gather in a large playing area, with all facilities and served with a traditional alcoholic beverage called Bhang. Typically after the event, people would then clean up and change into new clothes and meet friends and family for lunch or dinner. In the US, it may not be as ubiquitous as it is in India, nevertheless it has gained significant popularity across the US especially in the big cities such as New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles and is one of the largest festivals in Spanish fork, Utah. It is also celebrated across various universities usually organized by the Indian Students Associations. Asha for Education foundation which is an RSO based out of University of Illinois has been organizing the event for the past 5 years at the University. The proceeds go to charity for funding better education to the under privileged children in India.
As my first year on Campus, I decided to give this event a try and my expectations were not very high. On the contrary, I was amazed by the number of attendees and the magnitude of the event. As I approached the grounds, I witnessed a spectacular view of the whole arena filled with colors, I couldn’t wait any longer to join the huge line to enter the grounds. There were dance performances by the students in different forms including belly dancing, traditional Indian classical dancing and Bollywood. The DJ played good music, with a mix of popular songs and Indian music. I was surprised to see most of my non-Indian friends present at the event much before I arrived. Moreover, I met my professors and enjoyed smearing their faces with colors and greeting them ‘Happy Holi’. There was also scrumptious Indian food at the counter and I could not wait to feast on them. In total there were about 2500 participants from different communities on campus and this number is only expected to rise in the future.
In my opinion, the color, the music, the dancing, the food and all the different aspects were phenomenal and added to the enthusiasm of Holi. However, it was more satisfying to observe the true essence of Holi being retained, i.e. bringing together different communities and the feeling of unity. I would be delighted to witness a bigger event next year with more participants, so that people from every community, come and experience this feeling of joy.