Liberty Ledger

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Festival of Colors

The Hindu tradition of Holi spreads across the world this year

Nawal+Rai+featured+on+Holi+after+the+celebration.
Nawal Rai featured on Holi after the celebration.

Nawal Rai featured on Holi after the celebration.

via(@NawalR)

via(@NawalR)

Nawal Rai featured on Holi after the celebration.

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As a predominantly white female, I celebrate most American holidays: Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. I acknowledge other national holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day and Veteran’s Day. However, like so many other American households, I sometimes forget that my culture and traditions are not the only culture and traditions out there.

About three years ago, I met a close friend from Nepal, named Nawal, and he introduced me to Holi, India’s Festival of Colors that marks the beginning of spring. Nawal invited me to his house to celebrate with his family. I was nervous and very uncomfortable. When I met his mother, she was in a beautiful robe-like dress, and had beautiful henna all over her hands and up her arms. I looked around at their house and saw photos of my friend and his family back at the refugee camp where they lived in Nepal.

That day, Nawal told me about his life in Nepal. He told me about the corruption and the camp he lived in. He told me why his family chose to celebrate Holi. Nawal explained it as the one day of the year that everyone chose joy; that no matter how little money, little food, and corruption could deter him and his family from joy on this one day. I was so sad for my friend and what his family had gone through. However, he told me not to be sad, because he is in America now, and everyday is like Holi to them. Nawal’s sister brought over a bowl of colored powder, and Nawal took some on his hand and wiped the color on my face, his whole family surrounded me and took handfuls of so many different colors and rubbed the powders on my arms and face. We later began throwing the color at each other. We laughed and we cried, then we laughed some more. Nawal danced for us and played music, and then we all ate traditional food. This experience changed me, a family I had never met, and a holiday I knew nothing about, showed me so much love. They invited me into their home, cooked me food, and allowed me to share in their traditions. I have gone back to their house for Holi the last two years, and I hope to go back again soon.

Holi is believed to have started back in the 4th century. It was dated in a poem written by the Indian emperor, Harsha, in the 7th century.  Many people believe Holi began because of the Hindu legend Holika, and her brother King Hiranyakashayap. The king believed he was the ruler of the universe, and was superior over all else. However, his son, Prahlad, believed and followed the ways of Vishnu, the preserver and protector of the universe. Prahlad’s decision to follow Vishnu made his father very angry. The king felt he had no choice and devised a plan with Holika to kill Prahlad. The plan was simple. Prahlad’s aunt Holika would take Prahlad onto her lap, then she would walk into a fire. Holika believed she would be protected by her enchanted shawl, and only Prahlad would burn and die. However, the shawl did not protect her because she tried to kill another, and her plan failed. Holika died and burned alive in the flames. However, Vishnu saved Prahlad and he survived without a scratch. Vishnu then killed Hiranyakashayap, and Prahlad became king. Prahlad led by a great example, and became a wonderful king.

A love story developed out of Holi as well. In modern day Holi tradition, bonfires are lit on the night before Holi, known as Holika Dahan, some Hindu people collect the ashes and wipe them on their bodies as an act of purification. According to Google, “Dahan” means “to worsen”, so I believe that “Holika Dahan” is a statement about the King’s sister, Holika. Meaning “To worsen Holika”. However, that’s my own connection and I’m not sure if it’s true. The tradition of throwing colored powder and water on one another is believed to originate from the mythological love story of Radha and Krishna.

The legend says that Krishna felt insecure about his dark blue skin, and complained to his mother about Radha’s fair skin. Krishna, a Hindu god, asked his mother what to do about Radha and him having different skin colors. Krishna’s mother suggested that he smear Radha with paint, this will make him feel better about his own skin, and Radha would become even more beautiful. It is believed that this is where the tradition of smearing color on loved ones came from. Today, Holi is celebrated to mark the beginning of spring, but also to mark the importance of family and friends.

Although Holi is not celebrated in every home, this celebration of love is a beautiful tradition for so many people all over the world. Holi began on March 1st this year and ended on March 2nd. Hindu families across the nation and all over the world shared their affection for others on this holiday.

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