Guest post from YFU Atlas Corps Fellow, Deepa Khatri
My Homecoming Abroad
This is going to be my first Holi here in the United States, I have been celebrating Holi for past 2 year’s back home in India. I’m honestly, pretty excited to celebrate Holi outside India mostly because over the past couple of decades, it has become such a popular festival globally, that you can always find a little part of India/home almost anywhere.
Context & Origin
In India, we have thousands of gods and stories associated with them, from which we derive some of our values, culture, beliefs and way of life. India is known as a country of festivals – in fact, we pretty much have them weekly – where we come together to live in the moment, celebrating various occasions to spread joy and happiness amongst our communities. For those, who may not be as familiar with my country and this ‘festival of color’ and why it’s celebrated, I’d like share some the Hindu mythology behind its origin.
The story behind Holi is a story of a prince and how his devotion depicted the victory of good or evil. Prahlad was the prince of Multan and his father Hiranyakashipu had been gifted with a blessing that made him virtually indestructible. He grew arrogant, thought he was God, and demanded that everyone should only worship him. Whereas, his own son, Prahlad was devoted to Lord Vishnu (one of the 3 main gods in Hindu Mythology who created the universe). This infuriated Hiranyakashipu and he subjected his own son to cruel punishments; none of which affected the boy or his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika - Prahlada's evil aunt - tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. Unbeknown to Prahlada, Holika wore a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, while Prahlada had nothing. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada. Holika burned, Prahlada survived. Seeing this, Hiranyakashipu, unable to control his anger, smashed a pillar with his mace. There was a tumultuous sound, and Lord Vishnu appeared in the form of Lord Narasimha and killed Hiranyakashipu.
The date for celebrating Holi, changes each year because rather than being tied to a specific calendar date, it is celebrated at the approach of the vernal equinox, on the PhalgunaPurnima (full moon). The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring and end of winter, and for many, serves as a day to celebrate good harvests as well to meet others, play, laugh, practice forgiveness and repair broken relationships.
The celebration starts on the night before Holi with a ‘Holika bonfire’ where people gather together to sing, dance and party. The bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil, of Prahlada over Hiranyakashipu, and of the fire that burned Holika. The next day when the fire cooled down, people apply ash to their foreheads, a practice still observed by some. Eventually, colored powder came to be used to represent this ash and celebrate Holi. The next morning is a free-for-all carnival of colors where participants play, chase and color each other with dry powder and colored water – some participants even carry water guns and colored water-filled balloons for their water fight. It’s a super fun festival for people of all ages, which is one of the primary reasons for its increasing popularity.
Power of Festivity in the Modern World
In today’s fast paced world, cultural traditions often become overlooked. I personally believe that these festivals and their festivities play an integral role in reminding us of the importance of coming together, celebrating our differences and similarities, and helping us to live every moment to the fullest. Irrespective of where they come from or which ethnicity one belongs to, Holi brings people together to share and celebrate a culture, a tradition, a history, a community.
By immersing oneself in another culture, you can begin to truly understand differences, a unique way of life, and to learn from one another. What you find is that it all boils down to one simple thing which is we all are humans and we share the same human emotions. There is no difference that puts one race above or below another; the mere difference is, how you treat your fellow human beings.
YFU and Cultural Exchange
This year I’ve had the opportunity to work at YFU and contribute to the vision of increasing intercultural understanding, mutual respect and social responsibility through educational exchanges for youth, families and communities. And what could be better than inviting everyone to experience Holi, the festival of color, love and joy this year with me. I encourage you to immerse yourself in my culture for a better understanding of the differences and similarities of the human race, to gain mutual trust & respect and to stand for one race called the human race and for its development.
Bura Na Mano, Holi Hai! ("Don't Mind, It's Holi!")