Rediscovering the Festival of Colors: Holi 2014

April 15, 2014

This post was written by Ambika Ahuja, a member of Georgetown's McDonough School of Business Class of 2017.

I felt like Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games as people rushed around me to grab packets of colored powder. I spotted an orange baggie that others had neglected and hastily opened it. Clouds of color were already rising into the air, and my white shirt was soon sporting stains and specks of blue, green, orange, yellow, and red. I grabbed a handful of my orange powder and threw it at the stranger closest to me. I could hear laughter, as others did the same, and yelps, as some were caught by surprise, mixed with the sound of pop Bollywood music. No one could possibly follow the advice of keeping our mouths closed, and soon, not only were we all covered from head to toe in color, but our pearly whites became rainbows.

At the beginning of the event, the Hindu Student Association (HSA) held a puja. We took off our shoes, sat on the ground, and sang hymns. The HSA board then explained the story behind Holi and the purpose of the celebration. There was once an evil king named Hiranyakashipu who was practically indestructible. He was arrogant and believed others should worship him as a god. However, his son, Prahlada, continued to worship the god Vishnu. As a final punishment, Holika (the evil aunt of Prahlada and the woman after whom the holiday is named) convinced Prahlada to sit in a fire with her. She had a cloak that would protect her, but she said that if Vishnu really cared, he would prevent his devotee from burning. The cloak flew from Holika to Prahlada, and she was the one who burned in the fire instead. The night before Holi, people come together around a fire to celebrate the victory of good over evil. The fire and the festival of color commemorate a new beginning, during which we are meant to forgo past conflicts, forgive, and move on. 

As a nonreligious individual, I connect most with Holi’s purpose of bringing people together. I felt a connection not only to my past and my heritage, but also to the people around me as we all played with color. In India, everyone in the neighborhood would come out and celebrate Holi in some way, regardless of their religious background. On Sunday, so many Georgetown students from different cultural and religious backgrounds came together to celebrate this sense of community. We threw color at friends and strangers alike, embracing the spirit of community that Holi fuels. 

After the event ended, I decided to go grab a late lunch at Chipotle. A part of me really wanted to see how people on M Street would react to my brightly colored appearance. I got several stares and smiles, but no one asked me why I was covered in color. In fact, I have a feeling most of them did not need to ask. I heard people say things like “Oh, I didn’t know it was today!” and “I’ve always wanted to participate in Holi…” It amazes me how so many people are familiar with the holiday, most likely due to other events, like concerts or runs, involving color. However, I hope that, as people become familiar with Holi, they also consider its significance in Indian culture. I can definitely say that I have rediscovered the beauty of this holiday after eleven long years of not celebrating it, and I cannot wait to experience Holi again next spring.

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Rediscovering the Festival of Colors: Holi 2014