Holi: The Festival of Colors

DePaul University Students at Holi

This article was written by Parikshit Wadhwa, a Masters Student at DePaul University. He is an active member of DISA, DePaul Indian Student Association.

Holi, commonly known as Festival of Colors, is a festival from India that is believed to be celebrated for many centuries. As Society for the Confluence of Festivals in India’s (SCFI) website states, “It is said that Holi existed several centuries before Christ.” It is celebrated all around the world. It is a Hindu religious festival; however it attracts people from diverse religious beliefs and cultures. The traditions of Holi vary from place to place. Some of the common traditions in all the celebrations involve the bon-fire “Holika Dahan” and playing with colors “Dhuleti.”

The preparation for the bon-fire starts many weeks in advance. In India, people start collecting tree branches and dry leaves at many intersections of the roads in the neighborhoods. On the eve of Holi, people gather and place a statue of Holika and Prahlad in the pile of woods and then burn them in the bon-fire. The bon-fire symbolizes the win of good over evil.

Following morning, everyone plays with colors. The children and adults play with dry (powder) and wet (paint) colors. Usually people roam in small groups in the neighborhood and play with colors. There are gatherings to dance and share the joy. Many sweets and food items are prepared for family, guests and neighbors. Adults also prepare and drink “Bhang.” Bhang is prepared from leaves and buds of the cannabis plant and is consumed with “Thandai.” Thandai is a cold beverage prepared with milk, almonds, spices, and sugar. Bhang is mixed with Thandai as a substitute for alcohol. After drinking it people do repetitive actions or things for many hours.

In addition to the mythological significance of Holika and Prahlad, this festival is also associated with Hindu Lord Krishna and Radha. According to many stories, the young Krishna complained to his mother why Radha was so fair and why he had dark complexion. His mother suggested applying color on Radha and her complexion would change. Holi also marks the beginning of spring and a new year for farmers. The crops are harvested and the new agricultural year begins.

There were several gatherings and events for Holi in Chicago and the suburbs this year. As a Public Relations Officer for DePaul Indian Students Association (DISA) I recommended the Holi event and arranged an excursion to The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago in Lemont. Approximately 40 students and staff members from DePaul University attended the event. There were students from CDM, SNL, LA&S, and College of Commerce. It was a wonderful experience that was both interfaith and intercultural in nature. I hope everyone can experience  Holi at least once because it is a very powerful and symbolic celebration of the renewal of life that we all share.

Published in the April 2010 Issue of the Interfaith Review

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