Let Holi Be Suffused with Random Acts of Kindness
(Artwork by Monita Soni, M.D.)
As I pulled into my driveway, I noticed my broken mailbox. No sooner than I had got out of my car, my neighbor (Jim) walked out with a new mailbox and tools. He had taken upon himself to buy me a replacement and fix it for me without asking. I was very touched by this kindness. This weekend as we celebrate Holi, the festival of colors, I urge everyone to sprinkle compassion, inclusiveness, and tolerance into their colors.
Legend has it that young Krishna often questioned his mother: Why was Radha fair skinned and he was dark? One day his mother jokingly asked him to color Radha’s face, too. Krishna took heed and colored Radha’s face. Henceforth this playful coloring of Radha’s face is celebrated as Holi.
This ancient Hindu festival extolled by the poet 4th century poet Kālidāsa falls on Phalguni Purnima, the vernal equinox in early March. "Holi" comes from Hola or prayer for good spring harvests, to welcome abundant colors, and mending broken relationships. It also symbolizes ending conflicts and impure influences like Holika, the wicked aunt who tried to burn her innocent nephew Prahlada, the son of a demon king Hiranyakashipu. Holika had a “fire-impervious” cloak, but as the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada, burning her and leaving Prahlada unscathed. Vishnu always protects his devotees! To rejoice this victory of good over evil, people burn bonfires at the Holi full moon. The following day, throw dry color, balloons, water pistols (pichkaris), and buckets of colored water at one another!
Growing up, we had a dry Holi. My dad did not approve of kids playing with wet color because synthetic colors like malachite green could cause allergic or toxic reactions of eyes and skin. Also contaminated water could spread bacterial or viral diseases. He did not approve of bonfires either, as it caused air pollution and waste of firewood. After morning prayers we applied a few gentle dabs of dry, natural plant-based color (gulal/abeer) on both cheeks and a tilak on Dad’s forehead. As we admired our colorful visages, we could not suppress our covert envy of the frolicking, singing, dancing procession of multicolored revelers on the street. Holi hai, Holi hai, they cried out to drum beats!
After marriage, fearing my in-laws’ code of Holi conduct, I would hide out all day at the Ram Bagh Palace Hotel, Jaipur. After five years I took a chance of staying at home, thinking the “Holi gang” would spare me, but they covered me from head to toe in pink! I was “pink” with rage for a good two weeks. I most certainly will not miss that Holi! I had run out of pink clothes to match with my skin tone. I will google the human pyramids of Mumbai that the street urchins make to break a hanging clay pot of buttermilk, channeling Krishna’s love of butter. I will also watch the Holi utsav at Sri Govind ji’s temples at Jaipur, Mathura, Dwarka. Thank God for You tube.
This time in keeping with our tradition, I will offer prayers at the HCCNA temple with my friends from Huntsville, Alabama. My colors will be natural turmeric and sandalwood. I will make a floral rangoli and hang two traditional paintings of folk art I recently completed for my foyer. We will all sing devotional songs and tuck into several regional sweets, hopefully some saffron sandesh from West Bengal, poran-poli from Maharashtra, coconut-raisin gujiya from Uttar Pradesh, and my father’s favorite halva!
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