Practices evolve, but the spirit of holi endures: Innocent love, playfulness and looking beyond appearances- March 8, 2012
Holi has always been a festival of complete abandon and enjoyment. It always strikes me that people transform on holi, letting themselves go and allowing the spirit of the festival to take over.
Traditionally, holi is strongly linked to the bhakti tradition and is chiefly about love—in the guise of romantic, mortal love, we indirectly express love for the creator. Krishna dominates holi as its chief hero. Innumerable songs express Krishna’s naughtiness, how he teases the gopis, how Radha and he celebrate holi in dance and song. Sufi tradition also worships pirs like Hazrat Nizamuddin I the context of holi and the worshipper imagines himself in a state of bliss, playing holi with the pir.
It is interesting, this concept of innocent love and though we no longer consciously link our celebrations to the story of holi’s evolution; we usually practice holi exactly in this spirit of congeniality, bringing out our inner impishness on this day, letting our more formal facades drop to let in and give out the love, share the moments even with people we have no relationship with ordinarily. With close friends and family, of course, holi serves to cement our bonds further, creating more wonderful shared moments to commit to memory.
Today, Aadyaa was upset by her parents being unrecognizable; she didn’t like the smeared and strangely colored faces. After she was done with playing with colors and she was comfortable again, we talked about this being another facet of holi. To recognize that appearances are superficial; you relate to people from the heart, not by how they look. She agreed and Udai voiced this, “Mumma bhoot ban kar bhi meri mumma hi hai! (Even if she looks like a monster, she is still my mother)”!
Indian culture gives considerable importance to festivals. And while Diwali, the chief festival, starts with a family puja and culminates in community fireworks; holi is an out and out community festival, to be enjoyed out in the galis and streets. In the suburban context I live in, holi entails a DJ belting out the latest Bollywood hits intermingled with familiar holi-centric songs. Families gather in a common space, dance, throw color, create a mess, kids run around with pichkaris, squirting water on everyone, people drag others out of their homes to smear them with disgusting stuff, you get the drift. The DJ replaces the beating of the drum (dholak, dhol) and the singing of traditional songs that no one remembers anymore, sadly. But otherwise, the spirit remains intact. I hope modernization, globalization, the new economy and all of that stuff they tell us will happen doesn’t change holi!