Culture

What is Holi?

Holi
Holi
Holi, is a religious spring festival celebrated by Hindus. Holi is also known as Festival of Colors. It is primarily observed in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and countries with large Indic diaspora populations following Hinduism, such as Suriname, Malaysia, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad, United Kingdom, United States, and Fiji. | Photo: Steve McCurry, www.stevemccurry.com | Holi, Hindi, Festival, Celebration, India, Color, Religion,

Some people color eggs, but we color everything.

As an American that grew up in the Midwest the only "Holi" I knew of was church (holy) and Swiss cheese (holey). Fast-forward many years and several trips to India, later, and I am now a converted Hindu with an Indian husband. Holi has become a significant festival in my life and something I look forward to all year. Hindus all over India celebrate Holi according to their region's customs. My husband and his family come from Varanasi, and so during Holi we celebrate by cleaning the house (for purity), throwing colors (both dry powered and wet water colors), doing puja (worship rituals) and visiting one of the local bonfires to burn our own impurities. We burn our impurities by scraping dried mustard paste off of the skin and throwing that, dried cow dung and rice into the fire.

There is a huge difference in the way men and women are able to celebrate Holi in India. In Varanasi, women (even the local women) avoid travel outside of the home, particularly in the evening, during these days. Without adequate bodyguards it can be dangerous because the local men crowd the streets in a drunken stupor, play loud music, and dance with each other provocatively. Women typically celebrate Holi within the home with their family doing puja and going to the roof to play colors with other family members, and possibly even across roofs with other families.

Holi is not only a celebration of the beginning of spring and the colors it brings, but is also a religious celebration of the power of Lord Vishnu over the demon Hiranyakashipu. Obviously, since deciding to settle in the U.S. my husband and I have revised our traditions based on what is available. We still do our puja and throw colors at each other in the streets, despite some odd looks from neighbors, but we do not host the bonfire ritual, as Americans are much less comfortable with giant, open fires than people are in India. A few days before Holi in India it is impossible to ignore the feeling of excitement in the air. Regardless of our slight changes to our ways of doing things here in the U.S., that feeling of Holi is something that remains in my heart all year round as I anticipate the celebration.

My favorite Holi memory, by far, was our first Holi together after marriage. We were living in the countryside of North Carolina at the time. We went outside dressed in old clothes, because Holi colors will stain clothing and skin, and just went crazy throwing colors at each other. At one point I ducked behind the car for shelter and to reload (i.e. open another packet of color), but I wasn't shielded for long before my husband came running around the other side. We were laughing so hard I'm surprised we didn't get any of the colors in our mouths. Afterwards we looked at our color-covered selves and noticed that the entire yard, driveway, and my car had been colored in the process too. Some people color eggs, but we color everything. I'm still convinced that there is not better or more fun way to celebrate spring!

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Updated Apr 22, 2017 9:06 AM EDT | More details

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