On Reasons for Holi

The LA Times has an article on a Holi festival that took place in southern California last weekend:

About 150 people from Southern California gathered Saturday at Arcadia Park to celebrate Holi — the Pan-Indian “festival of colors,” a holiday celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and some Muslims that rejoices in the coming of spring and the triumph of good over evil. It is considered a major Hindu festival.

According to whom? I’m a Southie, and as far as I know, playfully throwing water balloons and colored powder at one another isn’t really our thing.

The reporter also gives a run-down on the history of Holi:

One version of the tale tells of Prehlad’s father, Hiranyakshipu, an evil man who wanted Prehlad to worship him, not the Hindu god Vishnu. After many attempts to change his son’s mind, Hiranyakshipu decides to burn him to death, and his aunt, Holika, is to help. In the end, Holika is burned to death and Prehlad is saved.

A woman is burned alive to save her nephew — what a wonderful reason to celebrate!

Another story is about the Hindu god Krishna, who is said to have lived 5,000 years ago. He enjoyed dalliances with the milkmaids, especially Radha. On Holi, Krishna asked his mother why his skin was darker than Radha’s. His mother told him to rub paint on her. She retaliated and eventually, all the villagers joined in. Since then, Holi has also been celebrated with colors.

I always thought Holi had little religious significance and had more to do with celebrating the beginning of spring and the harvest. But maybe that’s just the Chicago grad in me talking. In any case, Professor Vinay Lal of UCLA has his explanation of Holi:

Holi is something anybody can take part in because you do not need anything, just water and color. You can go to the home of an upper-caste person and throw water at them and rub color on them. But the following day, everything reverts back to normal.

So it’s really all about having a day to whoop some upper-caste ass. On a lighter note, the last part of the article made me smile:

In the United States, celebrants said it was a good day to take time off from hectic days of work, relax with friends and family and to renew friendships. “If you are on bad terms with someone, you don’t need to speak words to them,” said Sonia Anand, 35, of Arcadia. “Sometimes the words hold you back, and all you need is some color and a hug.”

Sounds more like the Holi I know.

53 thoughts on “On Reasons for Holi

  1. If I may just interject for a moment…it’s my experience that in the US, the majority of us gora are exposed to Northern Indian culture as opposed to Southern Indian culture. The Indian food is mostly Northern, the movies most likely to be seen are Northern (think ‘Monsoon Wedding’, ‘Bend It Like Beckham’, or ‘Bride and Prejudice’), and the Indian music, northern, especially Bhangra.

    So it comes as no surprise to me that the LA Times, when discussing Holi, would believe that it’s a major Hindu festival based on the larger amount of North Indian culture exported here.

  2. @ponniyin selvan – those attractive provocative mallu girls. there’s always one around.

    Not sure why tamilians and malayalees don’t celebrate holi. I think it has to do with the touching. or the prevention of it. of course, when we did play holi, everyone was most careful to not actually do anything inappropriate, since that would definitely not be good for street cred with the women. while i was in bangalore, i noticed two different groups of people playing holi… the college “porkis” who wanted cheap thrills, and the north indians, who got their whole family into it. I remember coming away wondering that their parents would allow all this abandoned behavior. So while I always played holi with my northie friends, I also remember that there were plenty of kannadiga boys (and some girls) running around town splashed with color. i don’t remember any aunties and uncles getting in on it, unlike the northies.