We celebrated a teeny weeny bit of Holi today, along with the kids in the building. From what we can gather, many of the Hindu holidays have come to mean different things for different regions, different towns, different people. With so many gods and such a rich history, customs are appropriated over time and evolve. But while traditions may change, this also seems to mean people continue to celebrate holidays with vigor - because they remain relevant.
Holi, likewise, is a celebration of many things. The name comes from Holika, the sister of a king Hiranyakasipu who wished all would worship him instead of the gods. His son, Prahlad, refused and became a follower of Vishnu instead. Knowing that Holika had the power to walk through fire unharmed, Hiranyakasipu requested Holika kill Prahlad by walking through the fire with him. So she did. But Prahlad survived, due to his devotion, and Holika burned instead.
Last night people lit bonfires in the streets, dancing and performing prayers around them. Families and young boys were also out stocking up on packets of brightly colored dyes and all sorts of water guns.
This morning no one came to work - not the maid, not the driver, not anyone. Everyone was out in the streets, dousing and powdering each other until the whole neighborhood resembled a giant abstract painting. Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, even the dog was playfully dusted with red pigment. In play, Holi is a celebration of Krishna, who was fond of the milkmaids (and their milk and ghee) and liked to play pranks on them.
Holi is also a celebration of spring - of the land and the return of bright colors after winter's muted tones. In the North the festivities get particularly raucous. We saw an awesome spread in The Big Picture from March 3.
And we have heard that Holi can get out of hand. Back when Mohana was young, natural pigments - like turmeric root - were used, which had the added benefit of serving as an antiseptic for the children (during chicken pox season). Nowadays they're all chemical dyes, so some caution is required. We've heard of people hiding in their verandas and dive-bombing people with water balloons and powder, of women being targeted, of people getting chemical burns and going blind.
Yet Indians don't seem to be lacking in joie de vivre. And what we saw, in this quiet neighborhood, was a few hours of pure play.