Every year at the US Varsities, the Indian student association invites prospective freshman and other students to celebrate Holi and to take part in one of the largest, muddiest colourful balloon fights in the United States.
The festival of Holi is an annual celebration marked in Indian culture with many bonfires, color, and outlandish fun for the arrival of spring. The festival celebrates the colors of spring during the month of Phagun, or February-March, immediately following the wheat harvest. Traditionally, people throw colored water in the afternoon and smear colored powder on each other in the evening. In addition, relatives often visit and exchange sweets with the children of the family.
Whether you are celebrating your own culture or another tradition, participating in Holi celebration has now become a tradition at Washington University in St. Louis. "While playing Holi, I met a lot of good people," said Sania Suri, the co-president of the Indian Students Association. "It was a good experience because I did integrate myself into Indian culture".
There are various religious and cultural implications to the celebration of Holi. But for the students at Washington University, it is a matter of great pride to be associated and learn more about their cultural traditions. After a short speech by the student on the history of Holi, the festive of colour began: people sprinted from trash can to trash can, darting water balloons like speeding bullets. Few minutes after, the supply of balloons became scarce, and those desperate for ammo were forced to hide from the lucky few who had rationed well. When the last balloon had been thrown, an inevitable mud fight broke out in the middle of the swamp, as everyone dragged their friends, kicking and screaming, into the mud pit formed from the worn-down grass and puddles of water.
"Planning Holi is a great way to unite the Washington University student body and give everyone a taste of Indian culture," said Rasika Reddy, co-cultural chair. After the festivities of the colourful water fight were over, many went home to clean the mud and colored water from their clothes and bodies, while others remained in the swamp to enjoy the music and the breezy weather.
In India, Holi is celebrated with much colour, where people go to the temple and then visit one another's houses to play in color and water, as well as drink a marijuana based drink known as bhang. There, the celebration is centered mainly on family, and close friends, as well as religion and culture. There is a definite pride in one's culture when one celebrates Holi in India, and it is always marked in the morning in prayer towards Shiva, Krishna, or the Vishnu, for blessings for the new spring. It signifies of prosperity for the new agriculture crops that comes in, and the birth of spring and its growth.
For an US citizen who was born and brought up in the states, this is a totally new world for Katie Marcus, who has never really encountered Holi until she came to Washington University, having only heard of it and not really participated. "I'm really not sure what the significance is, but I enjoy watching it on the swamp," said Katie".
As an outsider to Indian culture and a student at Washington University in St. Louis, Taylor had no idea what to expect about Holi. "I had just heard that it was a huge play and fight with colours and that people got really messy, which I didn't understand how until when I actually saw the event myself. It was so much fun, I'm sorry I didn't get to experience it as a prospective freshman", said Taylor.
With very little colour, students are unable to parallel this fun event with the coming of spring and have very little understanding as to how this event was founded on both cultural and religious aspects of Indian culture. While in India people pray each other with color in order to assimilate with nature the blooming of spring, at Washington University students are rolling in mud where they look more like the mud and slush of winter. "It would be nice to know why this celebration is done in India, because a lot of students here probably take it for granted what it's about and what its significance is," Maddie said.
While Holi in India and to those that understand its religious and cultural significance revere with some posterity and love, students who are known to much of Indian culture look at it as a good time. While this is part of the celebration, it is always wise to know the significance of an event, and to celebrate it properly. May be one year Washington University will too celebrate the opening of spring with actual color, and a bonfire, to commemorate Indian mythology, as well as the coming of the blossoming of spring. While students here mimic this festival from India in great fun, as it is a fun festival, it would be more fruitful to have people do things with knowledge or understanding of where and how it came to be.