Mar 9, 2012

Pockets of Culture & Packets of Color


Holi is celebrated for many reasons. A demigod was killed and restored in the name of love. A young boy was set on fire but came out alive by the grace of God. An ogress was chased away by drunk youngsters. But the story that is most celebrated, the story for which Holi is most known, is the story of color.

On the morning of Holi, kids old enough to walk put on their oldest, whitest clothes, fill up guns with colored water, load a supply of water balloons, and hit the streets to terrorize the neighborhood.

The best part is, the adults are doing the same thing.

The story goes that, as a young boy, Lord Krishna, an incarnation of one of the three main deities in Hinduism, was upset by his dark complexion. Especially because his one true love had fair skin. To compensate, and sort of as a joke, he smeared the face of his affectionate with a paste of colored powder and water.

Since then the festival of Holi has turned into a celebration of water, color, and all around gaiety.

In India, I remember walking out of my ground floor residence and being pelted with water balloons by neighborhood miscreants living in the apartment above. Ok, so they weren’t miscreants, just my best friends and partners in crime bidding my brother and I a good morning.

After moving to America, the festival of Holi remains much the same. Except that now we celebrate it in a more civilized manner. Or at least we try.

In India, the day was meant celebrate, to shoot water guns and throw color. In America, the festival is another opportunity to educate the young of the stories behind the day. Regardless of its purpose, festivals like Holi are celebrated all over the country in small Indian communities. Some are only as big as a handful of families. But nevertheless, they get together.

Children perform skits and dances. Adults organize potlucks. Families play “antakshari”. Teenagers pretend they’re too cool to participate but end up being the rowdiest. And non-Indians try to participate as best as they can. After all, who doesn’t want to shoot water guns with no repercussions?

Even in America, the culture remains alive. Kids learn about the festival. Adults relearn the traditions so they can teach their kids. Holi remains alive for another year.

And yes, there’s plenty of color.

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