As winter takes a last nasty bite, it’s time to conjure up spring by painting the town…pink.
The custom is so old that no one is sure how it all got started. But it wasn’t always fun and games. One popular tale is that long ago in India, there was a boy named Prahalad. He was a devotee of the god Vishnu. Prahalad’s father, an evil king, had grown exceedingly arrogant and jealous of Vishnu’s power. He ordered Prahalad to renounce Vishnu but Prahalad refused. Incensed, the king ordered his sister, a fire demon named Holika, to sit on a pyre holding Prahalad, so that he would be consumed. Miraculously, Vishnu’s power protected him, and Holika burned instead. To this day, Hindus celebrate this moment, when good was preserved and evil burned away.
Some centuries later, Vishnu was manifested as Krishna, in the northern city of Dwarka. Krishna was a mischievous young prankster. One spring day, he thought it would be fun to drench the local girls with water and, to infuriate them, he added bright colors that would stain their clothing. They were none too pleased, so of course they retaliated. Krishna recruited all the young boys to join him. Adults got caught in the cross-fire. Soon the entire village, from the wealthiest nobles to the most downtrodden untouchables, joined the fray and launched the spray. The village was stained a joyous, raucous rainbow of pinks, yellows, purples and reds. In the end, everybody had such a good time, they resolved to do it again the following spring…
And so, this weekend, India will explode in a massive, joyous, technicolor, communal water-balloon fight known as “Holi.” It’s the annual festival of spring. Holi celebrates the destruction of evil and the coming of colorful days ahead. On Saturday night, there will be bonfires of celebration. And then on Sunday, millions of Indians will dress in plain, absorbent white cotton – with no distinction of class, clan, or gender – and splatter a rainbow across the sub-continent. And not just in India. The party spills across the globe, to everywhere the Hindu diaspora has taken the faithful: Nepal, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa. Even to the United States, where there is a particularly large and notorious Holi celebration each year at Stanford University. (Yes, for one day the Cardinal will be rainbow-colored.)
Meanwhile, here in the Northeast, there’s no sign of spring in sight. Another foot of snow is expected over the weekend. Everywhere you look, the world is coated white like cotton, white like…a white cotton shirt. Hmm. That does it! We’re grabbing the shovels and digging out. Heading down to the Stop ‘N Shop for water guns, balloons and RIT dye. And, impatient for spring, we’re conjuring up Vishnu. We’ve had enough, it’s time to tie-dye the yard.
Holi Ki Shubhkamnaye.