Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Festival of Colors!! Happy Holi!!

Today Delhi is awash in color as the Hindu festival Holi is being celebrated!  Also called The Festival of Colors, Holi marks the coming of spring.  So happy Holi everyone!!

The lead up to Holi started the day we picked up Neve from the hospital.  As we were leaving the apartment I went to toss some baby gadget wrapper in the garbage and noticed that Dellip was at the sink making up a supply of water balloons.  That's odd, I thought, but I had my mind on springing Neve and did not press it.  As we were driving out of the neighborhood the kids were running wild, chasing each other, with what?  You guessed it, water balloons!  Oh, we think -- tossing water balloons must be a "fun game" for the kids in our hood and Dellip must be playing along.  How sweet is that guy!!??

Barely missing a balloon missile as we launch over a speed bump, our driver calls back to us - "It's Holi".  And we nodded and smiled (as you do when you have no idea what someone is telling you in a foreign language).  "Holi?" we say. "Yes", he says, "it's the first day of the Festival of Colors".  Oh, ok - it's starting to come together for us that this balloon activity relates to some sort of festival that is "holy" and has something to do with "colors" (but we don't know much more than that).  The driver leaves us with one final thought - "by next Sunday, EVERYONE will be covered in colors" and well, at least in my case, he was dead on!!

Happy Holi!!

After things settled down with Neve at home, I set about doing some research on this Festival of Colors thing.  It was clear with the activity outside our gates that it was a significant holiday no be overlooked - more Thanksgiving than President's Day, if you know what I mean.  With each passing day, the neighborhood was becoming more and more exuberant and more and more dangerous (mostly for Hamish) thanks to Holi.  Our street is lined on both sides by 3 story home/apartments, all with large balconies facing the street.  The kids (and I suspect the adults are in on it as well!) have been using these balconies as bunkers for the launching of water balloons at innocent passerbys. There has also been an increase in maurading groups of water balloon throwers who do battle with each other and the balcony tossers in elaborate commando water balloon raids.  Luckily for me, the cultural barrier of my gender (and perhaps my lack of color!) has protected me from being a major ballon target - but Hamish has not been so lucky.  For the past week, each time he's gone out to the park, he's had to duck and dodge down the street to keep from getting splattered!  Tagging Hamish seems to be a great prize in the hood and as a result, Neve and I have refused to go out in public with him (at least until this whole thing is over)!!
So what is this Holi all about you ask?  Good question! Over the course of the week we had been chatting up Dellip and Mr. Mohank (and others) about the festival trying to understand what it was we were celebrating.  Everyone was BEYOND happy to discuss the color part -- but no one could really explain to me the origin of the festival and why colors and water balloons were a part.  So I took to Google to see what I could find out and the story goes something like this:

There was this bad king of the demons guy who had been granted a boon (blessing/favor) by the Brahma making it very difficult to kill him.   Once he had the boon he stopped worshipping the Hindu gods and wanted folks to bow down to him instead.  Demon king's son - much to his dismay - turned into a big time devotee of the Hindu god Lord Vishnu.  So, bad demon king decides to kill devoted son and tries a number of times but devoted son is being protected by Vishnu.  In the last such attempt, the demon king orders his son on to a pyre that is on the lap of his demoness sister Holika (not sure how this works) - who can't be killed by fire (or so everyone thought).  Devoted son is also an obedient son, so agrees to sit on the pyre and prays to Vishnu to save him.  Vishnu comes through and instead of devoted son dying, demoness sister Holika goes up in flames!  The burning of bad demoness sister is celebrated as Holi!  Apparently, pretty soon after this, someone comes down and takes out demon king as well - which seems like a good idea given he's an attempted son killer and a demon king.
The official portion of the celebration of Holi spans over two days - the festivities begin with public bonfires (in honor of Holi getting burned up instead of devoted son) and continues the following day with the throwing of colored powders and liquid on your pals and neighbors.  When the powdered colors are mixed with water (like when you get hit by a water balloon or one of the neighborhood kid's hose, the powder becomes a thick paint like substance that clings to every pore of your skin.  It runs all over you and literally saturates your skin with color mixing with more color.  Now I never sorted out what the color throwing has to do with Holi (I did limited research) but it seems this festival is as much about religion as it is about welcoming spring and love and mischief.  I sort of think the colors might be like the Christmas tree -- a big part of it if you're looking from the outside, but no relation to the actual origin.

The tossing of powdered colors and water balloons not exactly providing a safe environment for the baby - we clearly could not experience Holi as a family.  We decided that Hamish would go out with Dellip with the video camera and capture it all on film and I would stay in with Neve.  Easy!  After breakfast, Dellip pulled out some of his colors and gave me and Hamish and little color for our cheeks and foreheads -- just a gentle amount to put us in a festive mood.  Thinking that the festivities would get going later in the day (like most thing here), we gave Dellip and Mr. Mohank the night off and decided to make dinner in for ourselves.

Hamish is working so I say I will wander down to the veg stand around the corner and secure some provisions for dinner. It's just after breakfast, so we are thinking the coast will be clear.  As I'm leaving the apartment, someone comes up to me, says "Happy Holi" and smears my face with green powder stuff.  This happens a few more times and then at the veg stand -- more powdered stuff being smeared on my face.  Can't really be impolite, so I just say "Happy Holi" back and accept more powder stuff on my face.  That was all good and fine - no water ballon assaults and healthy amount of powder on the face.  Then I rounded the corner and was at the edge of our apartment.  There was a family of about 10 in our driveway.  More Happy Holis and each of them gave me big smears of different color powders -- now on my neck, arms, hair, more on face -- and then one of them added water a little water and -- well, you know, cause I showed you the picture already.  I'm covered head to toe in COLOR!!

I came down to the apartment and Dellip and Mr. Mohank were totally killing themselves laughing at me.  I was made to go out the deck for a photo shoot and was then told to take a shower.  Turns out, the powder part of the festival happens in the morning (ie when I went out) and is over by noon!  It was sort of the feel of mardi gras (but much less crowded, sub in powdered color for beads and women keep their clothes all on!) -- a celebratory crowd of all ages passing on blessings of spring and love by sharing a little colored powder with each other!

A total trip -- I'm glad I ran into in, even if on accident.  Now that being said, the removal of the powder was one of the worst things I've ever had to do!  Those neighbors really got me good!! Took about 2 hours of scrubbing to make a dent.  Once the non wet powder got wet it dripped down to the other parts of my body so that in the middle of the cleaning, my entire body was striped in a deep blue green color that was running off my face and arms.  It may take a few more days to get back to my normal color, but so be it.  I'm glad we were here to welcome spring and that I got to receive the blessing of Holi from our neighbors!

So, welcome spring and welcome love and may everyone have a lot more color in their lives!!

Namaste -

G, H & N

Dellip giving Hamish some color after breakfast!

Hamish's Festival of Color outfit.

Fruit & veg guys.

Happy Holi!

Marauding family who totally got me!!

Not even the stray dogs were safe from the color!


  1. yeah that was the great function over india.thank you......

  2. Will this be a new enhancement to your Easter brunch in CS?