Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Happy Holi!

Today is the Hindu festival of HOLI—the celebration of colors. As with many Hindu holidays, I’m a little fuzzy on the origins of the celebration but the story I’ve heard most often is thus:

Originally a festival to celebrate good harvests and fertility of the land, Holi is now a symbolic commemoration of a legend from Hindu Mythology. The story centers around an arrogant king who resents his son Prahlada worshipping Lord Vishnu. He attempts to kill his son but fails each time. Finally, the king's sister Holika who is said to be immune to burning, sits with the boy in a huge fire. However, the prince Prahlada emerges unscathed, while his aunt burns to death. Holi commemorates this event from mythology, and huge bonfires are burnt on the eve of Holi as its symbolic representation. (

The festival is celebrated right after the full moon in March. It starts in the evening (last night), with bonfires and general revelry and continues the next morning with the throwing of “color.” This takes several forms—there is colorful powder to be tossed about by the handful (it looks a lot like the sand used in sand-jar art and is really beautiful in big piles in bazaar) and then there is colored water to be dumped over one another. Apparently, the consumption of marijuana (sometimes in drink form itself) accompanies much of the boozing, and the whole affair is usually over by lunch time as the participants subside into much-needed rest.

While for the most part the holiday is all good fun, it can get out of hand and in some parts of the country, like Delhi, foreigners can be the targets of some nasty pranks. Some are harmless but annoying (like throwing color on people who have no interest in “playing Holi”) and some truly dangerous (like throwing acid and other chemicals on innocent passersby). In Mussoorie, any pranks would be of a harmless nature, but it is still advised that we avoid the Bazaar today.

Last year Holi was on a sunny warm weekend and there was much fun to be had at Woodstock—I’ve seen pictures of laughing, color-soaked staff and students frolicking together. This year, it’s 40 degrees, raining and a school day so celebration is somewhat subdued. I think the kids are throwing color down at dorms after school but I’m not dressed for it so I may hide. There is talk of a belated Holi part at Mt. Hermon this weekend if we can get our hands on some color after the fact. If so, I promise to post pictures.


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