THURSDAY, MARCH 8: Colored powders cloud the air, and frivolous shouts ring through the streets: It must be springtime—it must be Holi! In India today and in Indian nations around the globe, the exhilarating Hindu festival of Holi is in full swing. Rightly called the “Festival of Colours,” Holi calls all participants to forget about castes and manners for the day. (Learn more at HoliFestival.org.) Young and old; rich and poor; men and women: all gather to welcome the joy of spring.
Holi unofficially begins on Holi eve (last night), in a ritual of burning bonfires to commemorate the legend of Prahlad miraculously escaping a fire when the Demoness Holika carried him in. Hindus believe Prahlad emerged with not even a scratch, due to his devotion to the deity Vishnu. Songs are sung in high pitch around the bonfire, accompanied by traditional dances. (Wikipedia has details.) After a frivolous night, celebrants wake early the next morning for a day of carefree fun. Winter’s neutrality makes way for the colorful essence of spring during Holi, and originally, the colored powders thrown at others during this festival were made of herbs believed preventative for spring allergies. (View Holi in pictures, courtesy of the Boston Globe.)
In Barsana, in India, courting takes on a new twist as men sing provocative songs to women and the women literally beat the men away with sticks (don’t worry—the men carry shields to protect themselves). In Western India, pots of buttermilk are hung high above the streets in symbolism of the pranks of Lord Krishna, and crowds of boys compete to build human pyramids and reach the top pot. The boy who reaches the pot is crowned King of Holi.
The throwing of colorful powders is seen everywhere from India to college campuses in Boston, but all too often, these powders come with a price: environmental and health scares. Long ago, Holi’s powders were made with clay, flowers and dried vegetables, but today, cheap, synthetic powders rule the market. Lead, asbestos and other toxic substances have led a young generation away from the frivolity of Holi and toward a more quiet, family-centered take on the festival. (Read more, plus access a whole collection of Holi 2012 articles, from the Times of India.) Still, the demand for organic, healthy Holi colors has spurred a new trend, and more companies and organizations are working with recycled flowers, vegetables and natural powders. Although regulations are still underway, experts anticipate the demands of young generations will someday be satisfied with a healthier, “greener” Holi.