Sunday, April 1, 2012

Holi hai!

Midway through my semester in Hyderabad, in the Spring of 2009, I had been fortunate enough to experience the Indian festival of Holi.  For those who are unfamiliar with the festival, Holi was originally a Hindu celebration of Lord Krishna’s defeat of a wicked King.  When the King was defeated, there were great celebrations throughout the land.  His death brought a beautiful spring, with blooming flowers and sunny weather.  The darkness of winter giving way to the colors of spring inspired people to celebrate by playing with colored powders and dyes.  Generally, the idea is to render your friends as colorful as possible.  The University of Hyderabad’s celebrations (I attended both a general campus celebration and a women’s only Holi party) had been great fun.  Still, I had been reminded many times that Holi was in reality a North Indian holiday, and the best celebrations occurred in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.  For this reason, I was very excited for the opportunity to celebrate Holi in Delhi this year.

Starting in late February, I started to notice signs of the coming holiday in the marketplace.    Colored powders, water guns, and the syringe-like squirters known as pichkaris were for sale everywhere.  In these last few weeks before Holi, increasingly, my students approached me excitedly, asking if I planned to “play Holi” on March 8th.  Of course I told them yes. 

When the appointed day arrived, my room mates Jessica and Joanna, Jessica’s friend Jaclyn, and I (I guess mine was the only non “J” name!) got into our oldest and least important clothes in order to prepare for the celebrations.  As the others got ready, I paced the apartment (like an eager, impatient child, according to my room mates) and made frequent trips to the window so I could check up on the preparations for the Holi party in the park in front of our house.  Soon enough, all of us were ready to head out.  

The sign welcoming us into the park!

As soon as we entered the park, we were greeted by the heads of the East Malviya Nagar neighborhood association, and very civilly anointed with small amounts of color on our faces.  After this first encounter, we quickly moved onto a far more boisterous celebration with the neighborhood children, and soon found ourselves very wet!  The day was starting to warm up though, so we did not mind.  And getting wet is part of the fun of Holi, hai na?

General Holi joy
Ananya and Chaittali (Remember them from Diwali?)
After we had played with water and colors for quite some time, a game of musical chairs was announced.  There were a number of rounds, including a game for women, one for men, two for children, and two for teens.  At times the games became quite competitive, and were a lot of fun to watch!  After the games came time for dancing, and after some initial self-consciousness, soon young and old were bhangra-ing together to various Bollywood beats.  As the music blared, trays of piping hot pakoras (deep fried spinach, potatoes, paneer, and various other things) came in a continuous stream from the refreshment tent.  In addition was a large vat of a cool, milky, cardamom laced drink known as thandai. 

Teen boys musical chairs
Ladies' musical chairs
Some other ETA's dropped by!  (Photo Credit: Stephanie Baker)

Soon after we had stuffed ourselves with pakoras, it was announced that lunch, or “real food” would be served.  It was absolutely delicious, and included the traditional Holi sweet known as gujia, a crescent shaped pastry. 

Gujias.  (Photo credit:

Even after the celebrations had ended, I delayed cleaning up for a little while, so I could fully enjoy my colorful self.  Even after showering, I ended up retaining some color in my hair and ears, which I was secretly happy about.  As I look back on the celebrations, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be living in such a wonderful, friendly neighborhood, with such a kind landlord.  I had been told that Holi celebrations in Delhi can get quite rough, so it was nice to have been invited to a more family friendly Holi party.  Holi entered my list of favorite holidays the very first time I celebrated it in 2009, and I am happy to say that my 2012 experience of the festival has only reinforced my love for it!

From left to right: Jo, me, Jaclyn, Jessica.  (Photo Credit: Joanna Stack)

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