Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Happy Holi

Holi (pronounced like holy) is celebrated in India spring time as a celebration of the spring harvest and return of warm weather. The colors people give each other reflect the colors of spring with new flowers blooming. Our celebration began on the green of our apartment complex. Each of the buckets is filled with colored water and children in the picture are loading large water guns which are the same design as a syringe but larger and without a needle. There are few adults out yet because they (unlike Donna and I) know enough to wait until the water buckets have been emptied before venturing out onto the field of battle.

This is Donna demonstrating the operation of the colored water gun. It is advisable to wear old clothes to Holi since anyone within range is fair game for coloring with water or powder. There are several legends associated with Holi, one of which relates to applying color to other people. Lord Krishna as a child was jealous of Radha (later to be his true love) because she was fair skinned and he was dark. His mother advised him to color her face any color he liked. So he colored her and her friends by either spraying with colored water or sprinkling with colored powder depending on the version of the story you hear.

Although the children take great delight in the water guns, most adults are satisfied to merely smear color upon each others faces or clothes while offering the greeting "Happy Holi". Donna thought it was good opportunity color my beard purple, but other people added other colors so by the end it was more brown than anything else. (Note from Donna: Our sons once tried to convince Joe to dye his beard purple. He said, "In another millenium." Then came the year 2000. But still he didn't do it.)

Another variation on the theme of sprinkling colors is throwing of flower petals as seen above. They are colorful but do not leave you with any proof that you have celebrated Holi as they simply fall to the ground. (Not only that, but if no one else has them, YOU still end up colored.)
The Indian flag is horizontal stripes of orange, white and green with a spinning wheel on the white stripe. This young artist is painting an Indian flag on the back of my shirt. (He omitted the spinning wheel.)

Another legend associated with Holi may be the origin of the name. Legend has it that it derives its name from Holika, the sister of the mythical megalomaniac king Hiranyakashipu who commanded everyone to worship him. But his little son Prahlad refused to do so. Instead he became a devotee of Vishnu, the Hindu God.

Hiranyakashipu ordered his sister Holika to kill Prahlad and she, possessing the power to walk through fire unharmed, picked up the child and walked into a fire with him. Either because her power only worked if she was alone or because it was canceled when she tried to use it for evil, Holika died in the fire but Prahlad came out unharmed.

Another theme of Holi is that of ending enmities between people. As you put colored powder on each other you are supposed to let go of grievances toward the other person. Minor naughtiness is excused at this time, children can get away with behavior that would at other times be corrected. So I think between the water fights, throwing colored powder and slight rowdiness, it's a safe way to vent a little aggression and get it out of your system.

After everyone was beautifully colored we all enjoyed brunch. There was spicy chickpeas, mildly (for India) spicy paneer (cottage cheese compressed so it looks like tofu), a puffy bread, somosas (stuffed fried pastry) , gulab jamun (a donut hole-like sweet soaked in sugar syrup), and curd (a thin yogurt). All through the morning there was a sweet milk drink containing poppy seeds or pods and maybe cardamom. The traditional drink for Holi is "Bhang", a highly potent alcoholic beverage. However this was a family event and bhang was absent.

The final pictures show various celebrants waiting for brunch to be ready.

Holi is observed the day after the full moon in the Hindu month of Phalgun which falls in February and March. Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after spring equinox. So Holi is usually a month before Easter but this year Holi is the day before Easter. So we closed the day with more colored water. This time they were dyes I brought from the U.S. for coloring (hard boiled) Easter eggs. Easter is the Christian celebration of the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. Colored eggs, as well as imitation eggs made of chocolate, or plastic eggs filled with gifts symbolize the new life of the resurrection. A chick hatching is the new life coming from something that seems like a tomb.

In retrospect, it seems like the celebration of the coming of spring and the colors of flowers blooming seems like something much more needed in Vermont after the long cold winters, bare trees, and snow; than here where flowers bloom all year. But at this time of year Vermont would have to settle for snowball fights. As a person with a lousy aim, who always seems to end up on the face end of a snowball, I don't think it would decrease enmities there.

In Vermont we have to settle for the Sugar on Snow Festival, where Maple tree sap is boiled down to make syrup, and then drizzled over snow to cool into a sticky sugar treat. Sort of like the North's version of "If God gives you lemons, make lemonaide."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How lovely to see adults playing with children .. and playing like children!
What a wonderful way to come out after winter's darkness.

Love that purple beard .. good for eating raspberry fudge.