Article by: Angelo Manaloto
It is not hard to imagine a festival that celebrates more than one thing at a time. However, if you are looking for one that celebrates the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, a time for creating new friendships and reviving old ones, the serenity that comes with play and laugh, and the peace that comes with forgetting and forgiving—well, look no further than the festival of colors and love, Holi.
Like a few other holidays, such as Chinese New Year, the date on which Holi occurs changes every year. This year, it fell on March 6. The celebration of Holi symbolizes legends and stories in Hindu sacred texts that have been passed from generation to generation. It particularly commemorates the story of Prahlada, a devoted follower of the Hindu god Vishnu, despite being the son the demon king Hiranyakashipu. Disgusted by his son’s dedication to Vishnu, Hiranyakashipu attempts to kill his son numerous times—to no avail. In a final effort to rid himself of his intransigent son, the demon king employs the help of his demoness sister, Holika—from whom the name of the festival is derived—who has the ability to walk through fire unscathed. However, it’s revealed that Holika can only walk through fire unharmed if she is alone. Thus, blessed by Vishnu as he walks into the fire with his aunt, Prahlada emerges unharmed while Holika perishes. Holi is hence celebrated to commemorate Holika’s death and Prahlada’s reincarnated life, given to him for his faith and devotion.
Holi also celebrates the everlasting love of the gods Radha and Krishna. As a teen, Krishna questioned the complexion of his skin in comparison to that of the fair Radha. Consequently, Krishna’s mother, Yashoda, playfully suggested that he smear Radha’s face with color in order to change her complexion into any color he wanted—thus the play of colors during the festival. Additionally, Holi remembers the sacrifice of the Indian cupid, Kamadava, who, in attempt to restore love between Lord Shiva—the Indian god of destruction— and the goddess Parvati, was incinerated by an infuriated Shiva. These three stories are the most prominent of Holi, but like many other Indian festivals, the tales alter in different parts of India.
Holi starts with people playing, dancing, and singing around a bonfire the night before the actual holiday. The morning after is a free-for-all carnival of colors with participants decorating each other with colored powder and water around the streets. Everyone is fair game; stranger or friend, rich or poor, young or old — everyone engages in the frolic of celebration and unity. Sophomore Neha Nagpal, who has participated in about nine Holi celebrations, states that no other Indian festival makes her feel as connected with Indian values and culture. “Holi has always given me the sense that there really something more that connects all of us Indians together,” she claims.
A popular saying during the festival is, “Let the colors of Holi spread the message of peace and happiness.” Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world indeed if every day was Holi.