Hues of Holi: My Childhood Memories


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“Bura na mano holi hai” (don’t feel offended, its holi-day) is a popular phrase I grew up listening to. It gave people the license to play any silly/ naughty prank and get away with it by making a cute ‘sorry’ face, holding their ears as if in apology and repeating it over and over again. But their eyes always gave away that it was all on purpose just to have fun… afterall it is Holi – the festival of fun, a day to end and rid oneself of past errors, a festive day to meet others, play and laugh and repair ruptured relationships, a day to forgive and forget with the help of vibrant colours!

Holi has a huge cultural significance apart from the colours, fun and frolic. The festival marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring; and is also known as the festival of colours or the festival of love. It is celebrated on the Phaguna Purnima (Full Moon) and for us North Indians it also marks the beginning of the New Year. Just like people wish each other ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Saal Mubarak’ during Diwali (the festival of lights), we wish each other the same on Holi day. It’s an important festival that signifies the victory of good over evil.

kanhaWhy good over evil? Legend says that ‘Holi’ originates from ‘Holika’, the evil sister of the demon king Hiranyakashyap – who had earned a boon that made him indestructible. The powers blinded the king, and he grew arrogant thinking of himself as none other than God. He also demanded that everyone in his kingdom worship him and only him. But, his own son – the legendary Prahlada, disagreed. He adored and worshiped Lord Vishnu and remained devoted to him. This infuriated Hiranyakashyap and he subjected Prahlada to tortures and cruel punishments; but nothing affected Prahlada and his resolve to do what he thought was right. Finally, Holika – Prahlada’s evil aunt tricked him into sitting on a pyre with her. She wore a cloak that made her immune to injury from fire, knowing fully well that she would be saved and Prahlada would be burnt into ashes. As the fire roared, the cloak flew from Holika and encased Prahlada. Holika burned and Prahlada survived. Lord Vishnu appeared then and killed King Hiranyakashyap. Since that day the bonfire is a reminder of the symbolic victory of good over evil. The day after the Holika bonfire is celebrated as the colour fest – Holi. In Braj Bhoomi, Holi is celebrated with flowers.

Holi has a very special place in the North Indian homes. The lovely festival reminds me of my childhood days and the amount of crazy fun we used to have. There were big preparations made for making it a memorable day. Home-made sweets like ‘Gujiya’ and ‘Laddus’ were prepared before the bonfire, as they were also offered during prayers and thrown into the fire. Holi starts after the bonfire is lit late evening and prayers are offered along with the home-made goodies. The prayers end with walking around the fire for seven times and offering a coconut at the end.  As children, it was very exciting for us. I remember, we would also go to the bonfire with wasted pieces of wood and throw it in the fire. That was one night we always looked forward to. In Mumbai, the bonfire ritual is still performed in almost every lane in every corner of the city. It’s a very big celebration. Once we got back home, with the ‘prasad’ and some of the burnt ashes of the bonfire; mom would apply the ash to our foreheads, because it was a holy ash. And then she would smear our faces with the red ‘gulal’ in the night itself. That gave all of us the opportunity to ‘officially’ start preparing for the next morning. Basically the pranks to be played on people the next morning. The biggest and most important preparation was filling water balloons with coloured water, and keeping big drums of coloured water ready for the morning assault on the passers-by and the folks from the opposite building inside the colony.

The morning would begin pretty early – though I hated waking up early, Holi was one day when I did not mind opening my eyes early. It was a fun day after all. There was no point of taking a shower and being well dressed, the idea was to get dirty anyways. So we would slip out of the house with the already prepared ammunition and lots of dry colour to hurl at anyone and everyone who came along. We had to slip out of the house because dad did not like the idea of playing dirty and would try to terrorise us by showing his big eyes. He didn’t know then that we just ‘acted’ to be frightened, when in reality it was just like throwing water on a duck’s back. Well, you have to respect your father’s act of terrorism and reciprocate with a bit of acting yourself, lest he got disheartened, right? :-p

Holi remains etched in my heart as the most special festival of the year #holi #festivalofcolors Click To Tweet

The kids from the opposite building would be ready too and then a great match would start – between both the buildings – we would aim and launch the attack by flinging the water balloons at each other. If it caught someone, it was a big win. If it didn’t, it atleast splashed coloured water everywhere. Was there any fun if the streets didn’t look dirty, wet and colourful? The balloon game continued till the balloons lasted, and then it was turn for playing with actual colours. Some notorious boys would also smear their hands with silver and golden paint and that used to be horrid. The usual trick was to target one person and then hold that person tight and rub the entire colour on his head, face, hands, clothes… everywhere. The idea was to make it difficult for our own parents to figure out who was who, not a single centimetre of the skin could be left without colour. It was almost like body paint albeit with clothes on 😉 This drama continued for a few hours. Everyone took turns to throw water on innocent people walking past to complete their chores and run their errands. We lived in a Parsi colony and the greatest joy was when the Parsis abused loudly when we threw water/balloons at them. We would throw the balloons and then hide and wait to hear some expletive in gujarati; after which everyone would laugh out loud continuously, as if being tickled by someone constantly. It was really so senseless. Sometimes, some people would also climb up the stairs to find out who these notorious kids were. Ofcourse everyone would hide until the perpetrators were out of sight! The drama would be insane with everyone acting totally demented. Mom would call out to distribute sweets to my building friends. By then the war with the opposite building would be over and they would come over too, for serious play and their share in the sweet booty!

Its only when our skin used to start itching because of the colour all over the face especially, that we would drag ourselves back home for the much needed shower. Ofcourse, not before clicking group snaps of how we all looked. The ‘selfie’ fever hadn’t started then nor did we have mobile phones with cameras, so one relied on the old age cameras with the film-roll; and we waited for the roll to get over and then take then it for developing the pictures. Those were the days! Times change, people change, but Holi remains etched in my heart as the most special festival of the year.

Image Source: Flickr

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