Recognize Holi’s cultural significance


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Narender9

Members of the Holi festival commemorate the coming springtime with celebratory red powders. This year’s Holi festival fell on March 1-2.

By Ashvini Malshe, Columnist

At 19, I took an introduction to Hinduism class. There, I learned the importance of figures and phrases common to my culture and the region of India where my parents are from, and I felt uplifted. I could finally make sense of things I would hear or do as a child, and I felt more culturally aware because of it. I felt more Indian because of it.

Now, at 21, much of that information has completely escaped me. I have forgotten the meticulous details of the “Bhagavad Gita” or the intricacies of goddess worship in South India, among other aspects. For a while, I somehow thought I was doing myself a disservice. By forgetting these details, I was losing a part of my identity.

But I now know it’s not true. What matters is I am aware and educated about the parts of my heritage I do choose to embrace, which is why I read up yearly on Holi.

Holi is a festival that welcomes spring. As India is primarily agrarian, and has been for centuries, this holiday is important because it marks a successful harvest. Every year, it’s celebrated during a full moon, called Purnima, over the span of two days. This year, it fell on March 1-2.

Religiously, it honors the defeat of Hiranyakashyap, a demon, by the hand of Vishnu, one of three of the main Hindu gods. It’s famously represented as the triumph of good over evil. During this celebration, merriment knows no bounds. You eat plenty of yummy foods and throw powdered and wet colors at each other through water guns and water-filled balloons — it’s quite fun.

Recently, I had a conversation with one of the members of Asha for Education, which is the RSO on campus that throws the local Holi festival each year. Asha’s main mission is to fund the education of underprivileged children in India. Holi, in fact, is their most profitable event.

The Asha member I talked with, Niti Shah, is one of the main festival coordinators. She spoke to me a bit about why Holi is so important to the organization and to this campus, specifically saying that it isn’t vital for those attending to grasp the nuance of Holi. For that reason, on this campus, Holi is promoted as “The Color Run,” but that’s pandering, I think.

Holi is so much more than throwing around a bunch of colored powders at your friends and family, even though that’s one of the best and most entertaining parts. It has a vital significance to a great deal of the South Asian population on campus, not just because of culture but because it ties us to our families and our roots. It’s a part of who we are as individuals.

Shah explained to me that Asha isn’t focused on promoting the cultural significance, even though so many of those that attend are South Asian. She emphasized that she finds that most people don’t care what Holi’s meaning was to this campus’ South Asian community and simply want to know what the premise of the event is.

Toward the end of my conversation with Shah, I asked whether or not she found it difficult to promote the event as a “color run” rather than a Holi festival. She confided in me she often faces an “internal battle” in her position. She knows advertising it as a “color run” is strange. As someone who has emotional ties to the festival, she wants to be able to share her personal experiences.

Yet she knows that’s not realistic. In order for their organization to thrive, Asha has to alter the way they promote the event, and I recognize that too; however, as we approach the Holi celebration this coming Saturday — and if you are going to partake in the festivities — please make an effort to understand the significance of Holi, culturally, religiously and historically. This article is a great way to start.

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