Via a group whatsapp most of the volunteers were reminded of the yearly Holi festival, which is celebrated by followers of the Vedic Religion, but which has attracted many people around India who are not associated with this religion. It is a fest that is celebrated at home, in school and most of all in the streets.
Holi, also called Phageval, is a festival of colors. Holi takes its name from Holika. She was a female demon and , thanks to the strong devotion to Lord Krishna, she was burned and destroyed. Krishna is a reincarnation of Vishnu, the god who liked to drench the village girls in water and colours. He always liked to play a prank on them.
Holi commemorates the destruction of evil, embodied in Holika, and the victory of good.
Holi, which this year was celebrated on 6 and 7 March (after the full moon), started several centuries before Christ, which makes it one of the oldest Hindu festivals. In a Hampi temple a scene is shown where a prince and his princess are standing amidst maids, waiting with syringes to drench the royal couple in colored water.
In medieval times colors were made from the bright colors of the patash tree. Now a lot of powder is not naturally made anymore, but natural and eco-friendly powder is still available. Holi is celebrated as a harvest festival. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. As such it has the same meaning as the originally catholic festival of carnival, which is celebrated in Germany and the Netherlands as well as in Brazil, to name just a few countries with a rich tradition in this.
Holi and carnival make people forget all the differences between them, so that they can indulge in a lot of fun. There is no distinction of cast, religion, colour, race, age or state. They are colourful festivals. At the feast of carnival people dress up to break the barriers between ordinary and ‘important’ people. With Holi the sprinkling of coloured powder (gulal) or coloured water on each other breaks all differences. There is no discrimination.
Personally I was merely interested in taking photographs during Holi. I wanted to watch the parade from a ‘safe’ distance and had not changed my clothes, because I would not engage in the party, at least that is what I thought. Manjula, an FSL co-ordinator and Shalini, a tent school teacher, had organized something for volunteers who wished to walk in the parade. The girls would go in pink and white and get together in Shalini’s house before the parade started.
Max, Tilman, Simon, Laura, Pierre and many others had come to the last bus stand. They had bought some bright colours for only 10 rupees per bag. When people started throwing powder they could not resist doing the same. Of course. When the parade came to the last bus stand the crowd joined in. Walking in the parade entailed throwing colours, dancing to the loud music from the lorry, and walking to and from Shastri Circle. Some spectators joined in, including Monica and me. When powder was thrown at us and they smeared it on our faces, we could not resist anymore to join in. The camera was full of powder, so it was better to use the mobile phone for taking pictures. A lot of purple powder ended up behind my shirt, which I noticed under the shower. It was a colour that would leave its mark till the other day.
The parade was great fun. Spectators also threw powder but chances were bigger that they were powdered. I was lifted up, which is not so easy, seeing my length and weight, and thus was really ‘touched’, physically and mentally. But it was all part of this carnvalesque game.
Old and young, coloured and white walked together. This emphasized that having fun together and letting yourself go is part of being integrated in each other’s worlds. The music from the lorry was blasting and men were enthusiastically dancing and singing. In general the women were more modest and were not expressing their joy in such an extravert way. Being a female extravert volunteer from Europe, loudly singing and enthusiastically dancing is something that can be a revelation to an Indian woman and sometimes it is something that they would also wish to do, but it may be frowned upon in the Inidan culture. India to me is a fantastic experience and if you are open to learn from each other you will meet the most beautiful people. The world is really one if you want to feel it like that.
The Holi parade ended where it began: at the last bus stand. There we took some group pictures as a keepsake. Some of us volunteers went back to Shalini’s house to collect their stuff. Others went straight home. Being foreigners the volunteers were not allowed into the temple, which we knew. Therefore a big group of us went to Kodi Beach. Although the water was not cold we did not try to swim in the dark. And the colours would not go off by the salt water. When we came home a good shower started the cleansing procedure. Not everything went smoothly. The purple colour took a longer time to wash away.
We had a very interesting experience today with this celebration of spring. For some it was the end of their season as a volunteer, and for some it was the beginning. At least it was very memorable to celebrate it in this colourful way, which we will not easily forget. To say it in Laura’s words: ‘It was one of my most memorable fun events.’
– Manas –