Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Festival of Colours

            As a child growing up in North India, I vividly remember Holi, the Festival of Colours. At that age, it meant a time when adult control over children disappeared and I could get away with all sorts of naughty things. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, I dowsed family members, what to speak of complete strangers, with buckets of water and handfuls of vividly colored corn starch without fear of punishment.
            Holi is a time when social barriers of class, age and even of gender disappear and one can, under a disguise of color, celebrate in equality.
            As with most things in India, the festival is cloaked with legends. In one, a devout young boy, Prahlad, is tortured by his evil aunt Holika. She has the power of being unaffected by fire. She carries the young Prahlad into a bonfire, expecting him to die, but miraculously, he escapes harm while she is consumed. Indeed, one of the traditions of Holi, named after Holika, is the burning of a bonfire during the (usually) two-day festival.
      Another legend has to do with Radha and Krishna, the Divine lovers who are worshiped across the sub-continent. Krishna, in his boyhood, would engage in any number of pranks to tease Radha, the leader of the Gopis, the cowherd girls in the village of Vrindavan, where they grew up. The current festival is a remembrance of those playful pastimes in which Krishna splashed of water and threw colored flower petals at his beloved.

Lathmar Holi
            Interestingly, in one village called Lathmar in the Vrindavan region, the women folk exact revenge for this teasing. During the Lathmar Holi, the women of the town gather the men from their town or neighboring villages and,  ritually, but gently, take sticks to their menfolk. Needless to say, the playful revenge creates a great deal of mirth for all.
            The celebration, which coincides with the beginning of spring, is celebrated throughout India, Nepal and several other South Asian countries. Increasingly, it is now appearing around the world and attracts not just ethnic Indians but locals. “Color Festivals” as they are known, are observed in many parts of Europe, Australia and the United States.
Surprisingly, one of the largest such festivals occurs annually at a Krishna temple near Salt
American Festival goers in Utah
Lake City in Utah. In 2016, an astounding thirty-five people, mostly young college students, showed up for two days of color throwing, music and dance. Holi has become so popular there that tour buses ply visitors from around the Western states, and being alcohol and drug free, it suits well the local Mormon ethos, whose adherents form the vast majority of the celebrants.

Indeed, in keeping with its original intent, Holi is becoming a celebration observed all around the world, rising above all human dualities, whether color, nationality, class or gender.

-Mohan Ashtakala is the author of "The Yoga Zapper," published by Books We Love. www.yogazapper.com ; bookswelove.com