A Day of Play
Water balloons, squirtguns, and plenty of old clothes are central to celebrating Holi, Hinduism's festival of colors.
BY: Hema Nair
"Holi Mubarak! Happy Holi!" The morning air in Delhi rang with those words as my friends and I gleefully smeared blood-red or acid-green powder on our giggling victim. We poured blue or yellow powder on her hair, massaging it in for good measure. Balloons filled with water and gulal (pink powder) exploded with a wet thwack on her arms and legs as we shrieked for joy. We foiled our friend's attempt to escape by throwing another balloon at her.
For a few hours that morning, all rules of etiquette drilled into us by the Irish nuns at school were cast aside, along with our prim pink-and-white uniforms. We were meant to be drenched with color that day, and our mothers made sure we left home wearing our oldest clothes. The naive victim who pleaded, "Stop, stop, please!" only invited more assaults. At the end of the day, our painted selves were the colorful evidence of the fun we enjoyed playing Holi.
The spring festival Holi comes in March, when daffodils blossom in the northeastern United States and devout Catholics fast during Lent. Halfway around the world in India, Hindus celebrate Holi by squirting colored water or powder on one another, dancing, drinking thandai (sweet milk enriched with dry fruits), and offering special food to the gods. In some parts of India, thandai is laced with a heady dose of bhang, an intoxicating herb that has an effect similar to opium.
For most Hindus living in the U.S., however, Holi is no longer the uninhibited holiday they celebrated back home. For them, the colorful part of the festival survives only in the tiny pots of gulal they pick up from Indian grocery stores to place before the altar at home.