Students to celebrate spring festival of color

Students to celebrate spring festival of color

Students to celebrate spring festival of color
March 03
00:16 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

Every year across India, clouds of brightly-colored powder envelop streets, homes and villagers in a celebration that marks the beginning of the spring season.

Community members gather on the eve of the festival for bonfires and prayers, followed by a day of merriment as individuals engage in singing and dancing.

On March 6, Hindus and anyone else interested are invited to Kerr Beach to commemorate the second Holi Day at UNT.

Although Hindu devotees constitute most of those who partake in Holi Day, or the Hindu Festival of Color and Light, the festivities are open to anyone despite their religious denomination. This is the motivation behind the India Students Association and the University Program Council’s partnership to bring the annual event to UNT students.

“I think that the spirit of the festival is so fun-filled and egalitarian, having to renounce all the concerns of daily living and mingle with each other regardless of social class, religion or color,” said philosophy and religion studies professor Pankaj Jain, an expert on Hindu communities. “That’s part of celebrating diversity in this country and our campus.”

The main event of the festival is the color play where people apply or throw powder, called gulal, on one another. The gulal can be many colors – red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple – that are traditionally extracted from plants and flowers.

“With everybody painted in different colors, they cannot recognize one another,” Jain said. “They are lost in that spirit of oneness.”

Working together

For the March 6 event, the ISA will host a performance and provide an introductory speech on the history behind Holi Day. Students can then throw the colored powder.

ISA president Abhinav Gudimella, who has celebrated Holi Day both in India and the United States for the last 20 years, said the festival gives participants a renewed feeling that people are naturally happy playing with colors, even if they happen to be strangers.

“[Holi Day] unites and strengthens a community in many ways,” Gudimella said. “I believe this brings people together, and that might be the biggest strength for any community.”

A religious history

Jain said the festival’s rituals are rooted in the story of Prahlada, a saintly boy who followed the teachings of Vishnu, the supreme deity of Hinduism.

Born to the demon king Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada refused to accept the commands of his evil father and devoted himself to Lord Vishnu. His father was consequently angered by his son’s rebellion, so he attempted to kill him by ordering Prahlada to walk through fire with his demoness aunt, Holika, who believed she would be unharmed by the fire. Obedient as he was, Prahlada accepted his father’s command. While Holika burned to death, Prahlada prayed to Lord Vishnu and was unharmed.

Holika’s death by fire brought about the tradition of lighting bonfires on the eve of Holi Day.

“Like in all festivals, Hinduism in India celebrates. It’s the death of evil and the victory of the truth,” Jain said. “It’s a celebration of the bountiful aspects of nature and egalitarian aspects of society.”

Although the main elements of Holi Day are the same in the United States as in other countries, the differences are in the length of celebration and the manners in which participants celebrate, said Hindu spiritual leader Swami Nikhilanand, who travels from Austin to India for the festival.

“In the U.S., Holi is only celebrated for one day, whereas in India, depending on the region, it may be celebrated for up to eight days,” he said. “Also, the Holi play in the U.S. tends to be more restrained, and limited to designated areas. In India, Holi is played with more abandon, and the entire country becomes a designated area for Holi play.”

Nikhilanand said although Holi Day does have religious significance and has its origins in Hindu historical events, it has a very wide appeal to people of all backgrounds.

“I believe people are attracted to Holi by the exuberant rejoicing and, at the risk of stating the too-obvious, the colorfulness,” he said. “I think the kid in all of us loves Holi.”

Uniting cultures

Across the country, cities, towns and universities celebrate Holi Day to not only engage in a spirited event, but also educate communities about the various cultures that make up American society.

“Holi is a cultural event that brings people together,” Gudimella said. “It connects people from different communities. It’s not specifically holy for Indian communities; it’s open to everybody, so it allows them to learn about the Indian culture.”

Holi Day’s social significance lies in its encouragement to meet with family, friends and neighbors to start the spring season anew and let go of any negative feelings or personal grudges, Nikhilanand said.

“It symbolizes forgiving any past wrongs and starting fresh with a positive attitude and a feeling of kinship with all people you meet,” he said.

Featured Image: A couple pose for a selfie during the second day of the Holi festival in the Netherlands. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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