By Arnav Verma
Grade 9, BCTS, Glen Rock resident
On Saturday, April 23rd, the Glen Rock Indian Community gathered at the Saddle River County Park of Glen Rock to celebrate Holi, the festival of colors. But in order to understand the celebration, one must understand the origin of the Holi itself.
Holi is the festival in Hindu culture signifying the passage from winter into spring. Legend has it that this festival began when the demon king Hiranyakashyap commanded that everyone in his kingdom worship only him. When he discovered that his son, Prahlad, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu (a god) and refused to worship his father, he felt betrayed. His evil mind decided to kill Prahlad. Demon king conspired with his sister, Holika, to trick Prahlad to walk into a fire with herself. Holika was immune to fire, not Prahlad. Upon doing so, Lord Vishnu saved Prahlad’s life, and Holika was reduced to ashes. This led to the end of the demon king’s rule, and brought a new era of peace and joy. Other legends exist which explain the origin of Holi, but all the legends are similar. Holi is the celebration of the end of evil, and the rise of joy, love, and unity.
Holi, as per Hindu calendar for 2016, was on March 24th 2016 but due to weather conditions Glen Rock Indian community decided to celebrate it on April 23rd, 2016. The community began the celebration with traditional cultural music, including Bollywood songs such as “Rang Barse”, “Balam Pichkari”, and “Tune maari entry yaar”. All these songs were full of liveliness and joy, further spreading the joy and fun that Holi brings. After critical mass of people arrived to the celebration, the food was served. It consisted of traditional Indian food, such as Paneer Tikka (grilled Indian cheese and vegetables in Indian spices), Samosas (Fried pastries with savory vegetable fillings), Vegetable Cutlets, and Jalebi Rabri (deep-fried wheat flour batter in pretzel or circular shapes served with sweet, condensed milk). In addition, there was pizza, various fruit drinks, soda and chai (Indian masala tea). The types of foods served at the celebration truly represented how Indians living in America often fuse cultures. During this time, most of the children were playing with each other in the park. Most of the adults were having conversations, catching up with what was going on with each other. This only set the stage for the next part of the festival: the exchange of colors.
One of the most unique parts about the Holi celebration is the applying of colored powder (mixture of corn starch and food dye) upon the people who attended the celebration. This tradition is meant to spread goodwill and safety to those around them. This tradition was created when in ancient India, during the changing of seasons (winter to spring), colorful herbs and powders would be applied on people to prevent them from getting sick. This was done as a precaution, as the changing of seasons was a time when infection rates were higher. Because of this, the tradition was born.
Tradition began with family members affectionately applying the powder on each other, which meant “safety and goodwill”. Right after that, more people got hold of the colors, and nothing could be done to stop what occurred right afterwards. People were joyfully applying and distributing powdered colors, and exchanging hugs. The fun began with a few smears of colors on one’s face, which quickly transformed into a rainbow of colors on people’s jackets, pants, shoes, and hair. Everyone looked alike yet uniquely different.
While enjoying this tradition, it was apparent to me the joy that this festival spread. Holi may be the festival of colors, the celebration of joy, the end of evil, but it is much more than that. Holi is a time where people meet new people, make new friends, and learn to look out for each other. Needless to say that a lot of hard work was put in place by organizers of this event. As people arrived and left from the celebrations, they often did so with someone else’s phone numbers on them, radiating happiness and joy.