One of my fondest memories of childhood is celebrating Holi in Allahabad during my Father’s 3 year work-contract there. As some of you may know, Holi celebrations in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India are not for the faint-hearted. There’s not just colors involved, I’ve seen things like eggs, muddy water and sticks as well (a tradition where women beat men with sticks, not seriously of course) being hurled around. But the one thing that stood out was that it was largely a community affair. The entire mohalla (town/village community) was involved in everything, right from preparations to celebrations. In fact, the festival of Holi is something one celebrates in and with the community itself. I’m not going to delve into how Holi came about. You may read about it here. This post is about how festivals should be a community affair.
So I’ve spent a good many of my growing up years celebrating Holi with my friends, and people I didn’t even know from the ‘mohalla’… all in good faith. We would throw colors and colored water at each other for hours at end, snacking whenever we could remember to eat, on sweets and drinks, then spending the rest of the afternoon vigorously scrubbing away the color, and going to school next day to find that there were still some funny looking, pink or purple, even black faces who weren’t able to get quite clean. It was a matter of pride. The more color you had, the better Holi you played. It was raucous, wild and I loved it 🙂
Then there was the karanji/gujiya and bhaang itself. While karanji is an Indian sweet, Bhaang is a drink made of crushed cannabis leaves added to chilled milk, clarified butter and some spices. It has an amazing kick to it, but of course we kids always had a watered down version of it. Now, I don’t know if bhaang is offered on the streets anymore by the mohallawalas, but back in the day it was a ‘thing’. A certainty, as much as the colors of Holi were.
As I grew up though, I noticed that the celebrations were getting tamer, till they simply vanished. Our growing civic sense, modernization and the increasing pressure of our work-lives ensured that the celebration of this communal festival has now reduced to Holi becoming synonymous with a holiday meant to relax before the idiot box with friends/family in tow. Sure you’ll do a pooja at home, buy some sweets from the local sweetshop, smear some color on your face and send your friends some downloaded picture of a Holi message via Whatsapp or Facebook. But you won’t go out there and wish them personally. You will no longer go out in the neighborhood, knock on people’s door and greet them with the customary ‘Holi Hai!’. You’ll rationalize this by saying that playing with colors is bad for the environment, and that neighbors have their personal lives and you don’t want to look like a hooligan. You don’t want to look uncivilized before the community. The same goes for other festivals too – Diwali, Janmashtami, Shiv Ratri and the other communal festivals in the Hindu calendar.
We’ve forgotten along the way that festivals aren’t about littering, or binging or partying. There’s nothing unholy about Holi. It’s a festival that was always meant to be about spreading communal cheer and strengthening human bonds. It’s about spending a day mingling with the community. It engenders communal trust and harmony. It’s a chance to know thy neighbor. Sure, ditch the colors if you want, or get the more environment friendly ones made from flowers and seeds. Ditch the sweets too if you’re trying to keep a check on your waistline. Don’t spill a single drop of water. Conserve it because its a precious resource. But please don’t ditch the tradition and sentiment. Not all traditions are foolish and archaic. Some had been cultivated for a reason.
And Holi just came with one – Celebrate Love and Life.
Have a safe, happy and vibrant Holi Everyone!
Copyright ©2017 by Pradita Kapahi.
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Image credits: https://www.warmoven.in