Experiencing Holi (N. DeMaio)

Holi is the Hindu festival of colors and festival of love. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil (illustrated by the legend of Holika), the arrival of spring, and also provides the opportunity to repair relationships in order to generate harmony in society.

Traditionally, there is a bonfire lit the night before Holi to symbolize the destruction of the evil Holika and the demon king Hiranyakashipu. On the following day, celebrations begin in the early morning and are marked by play with colors – it is essentially a free for all with strangers and friends throwing colored powder and spraying each other with colored water. The legend of play with colors originates with the deity Krishna, who is recognized by his blue skin (the result of being poisoned by a she-demon). When Krishna worried that his skin color would keep the beautiful Radha from liking him, his mother suggests that he color Radha’s face with a color of his choice. Krishna takes his mother’s advice, colors Radha’s face, and the two become a couple. Play with colors is a way to celebrate the divine love between Krishna and Radha.

This year, I decided to attend a local Holi festival in Jersey City, NJ after seeing a sign on my commute to work one morning. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I went to the site of the festival ready to find out. I could hear music and shouts of “Happy Holi!” as I approached the site. I walked through the play with colors, taking in the atmosphere as everyone around me threw handfuls of powder into the air and at each other. The scent of curry and spices filled the air as people began buying lunch from the stands run by local restaurants. At the front of the festival site, there was a stage set up with dancers from nearby studios performing both classical Hindu and more modern, Bollywood-inspired routines. All in all, it was a great introduction to the meaning behind the festival as well as a way to experience the sense of community that came from the joint celebration.


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