Holi: Memories of Homeland– Remembering the gone days of colorful joy!

Color play on Holi fetival. Photo: Reuters K.K. Arora

Holi falls on the first full moon of the month of ‘Falgun’ in the Hindu lunar calendar, ushering in the Spring season. While the fire is lit on the full moon night, playing with the colors follows on the next day, the ‘padwa’. Like most Hindu religious festivals, Holi is also a festival symbolizing the victory of good over evil, be it outer victory or inner victory over the evil within. And such victories are always occasions of joy. Most Hindu festivals, thus, are joyful festivals with lots of lights and colors and flowers and singing, and chanting, and prayers, and clean joy. Holi is one such festival which divides the religious aspect and the celebratory aspect in two separate days. The first day has solemn religious ceremony of lighting a symbolic fire, thanking the Gods for taking care of lives, for providing food, and asking for continued protection. The second day is for throwing all care in the air, dancing, singing, playing, and expressing sheer joy. Which is why it is called ‘Dhuleti’ or ‘Dhulwad’ – having so much joy that you play even with dust.

Holi, the Gujarati Way  

A tradition which seems to be common among the peoples celebrating Holi in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, is that of organizing the fire, collecting of firewood and money for other items. Amit Maniyar, who is on a visit from Bhavnagar in the state of Gujarat talked to News India Times about the traditions in Western India. He said that in his childhood, preparing for Holi began almost one week before in individual neighborhoods, collecting firewood along with monetary donations to buy things to help prop the fire, chief among which were cowdung cakes.

Individual Holi fires were lit in most neighborhoods, and on the day of the Holi fire, people went in the evening to do ‘pooja’ with ‘revadi’ (sweets made of sesame seeds and sugar), ‘dhaani’ (puffed sorghum), and other items, Maniyar said. Circling of the fire with water was a common thing in every city. A special feature was for the Newlyweds to go around the fire seven times, as if renewing their vows again, according to Maniyar. He said he remembers an earthen pot containing wheat berries was placed in the middle of the fire, which, after being cooked in fire, was distributed the next morning as ‘prasad’. Maniyar said ‘haarda’ of ‘patasa’ (garlands of sugar biscuits) were usually eaten along with ‘dhaani’ and dates for days during the festival.

The next day, called ‘Dhuleti’, groups of small children and young people went around in the morning, throwing colors and water at each other. And then, tired after a rigorous cleaning, they would spend the evening at home. Later, there followed a brief and rowdy period of playing ‘Dhuleti’ with grease, and oil and tar, he said, adding people became health conscious after much warnings against such material and started using only dry colors on each other as they went around on their motorbikes and scooters, followed by special dinners at restaurants.

Maharashtrian Holi

Much similar are the memories of Sangeeta Pandit, Liaison and Administrator at A. Holly Patterson Extended Care Facility, Nassau County, New York. Growing up in Alibaug, Konkan, Pandit said she has fond memories of celebrating Holi, the Maharashtrian way.

For Pandit, Holi was a festival with distinct traditions. Similar to the Gujarati tradition, in rural Maharashtra also, groups went around the houses collecting firewood and money. Pandit said she specifically remembered people going around on the streets, singing ‘aali re aali Holi aali’ (Holi has come), and also singing

Holi re Holi

        Purna chi Poli

        Shaiba ta khissat

        Banduk chi goli

 “On the day of the full moon, the Holi day, special ‘puja’ (worship) was done in our homes. Usually, my mother made ‘Puran Poli’ which was either eaten with milk, or ghee, or with ‘kataa chi aamti’”, Pandit said. Other items included were ‘Narali Bhaat’, ‘Varan Bhaat’ and more. In the evening, after the ‘darshan’ of Holi fire to which were offered coconuts, ‘revadis’ and ‘dhaani’s, there followed a communal dinner.

Pandit said the next day, known in Maharashtra as ‘Dhulwadi’, she and her friends kept buckets of colored water ready, and ‘pichkaari’ (water guns) filled and lined up, to target anyone who came nearby. The houses had big yards and orchards of coconut and palm trees, and were called ‘waadi’, Pandit said. “We kept hiding and attacking each other, also carrying each other to the ‘haud’ (small water tank) and throw them in, and come out looking yellow, pink, purple and green. We had to clean ourselves up after we were tired of playing, in the backyard itself. And then followed a delicious vegetarian meal,” Pandit said. She also said the next day at school, she and her friends were reprimanded by the teachers for being unsuitable to sit in school due to the colors on them.

Mumbai Holi

Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, has always been a cosmopolitan city. The traditional fires were more or less confined to the temple courtyards in the cement and concrete city. However, ‘Dhuleti’ the day after Holi, was played in much similar ways, throwing colors at each other, going around from house to house of each friend. Mumbai also had a tradition of throwing water balloons which were banned in the last few years as they started physically hurting people.

Mumbai ‘Dhuleti’ included the children and the young people. Ketu Sheth of New York who works with the New York Department of Health, spoke of the tradition of the downtown Mumbai. As everywhere, the day of Holi was the day of evening campfire. She also spoke of an earthen pot containing ‘channa’ placed in the fire to roast and use as ‘prasad’. She remembers the next day nostalgically as groups of young people knocked on apartment doors which had to be opened and no amount of hiding saved one from being drenched in color or water. Eating sumptuous meals with many varieties including ‘biranj’ (sweet vermicelli) was also a common feature.

With a lot of Bollywood songs featuring the ‘Dhuleti’, Mumbai celebrations became a little more romantic for the young people, going around in groups and getting wet. Organized group celebrations also became part of many community housing societies, with festive group dinners in the evenings.

North Indian Holi

Up in the northern India, Holi is celebrated much in the similar way the first day, with the traditional fire, and ‘revadis’ and ‘dhaanis’. But the next day of color is a big event in rural as well as urban areas. Much in the fashion of Bollywood films, friends would get together in someone’s house, color each other, sing songs, and have the intoxicating ‘bhaang’. “That is the Punjabi tradition. We drink bhang at Holi, not just at Shivratri,” said Aalok Sharma, a businessman in New York City.

Bengali Phool Dol

In West Bengal, Orissa, and Assam, it is the day after ‘Dhuleti’ or the third day of Holi which is celebrated as ‘Dol Utsav’, which is also known as ‘Dol Purnima’, or ‘Dol Jatra’. In these regions, Holi is dedicated to Krishna and Radha, whose colored images are taken out in a procession, said Tulika Chatterjee, of The City University of New York, to News India Times. “The ‘palki’ is decorated with flowers, leaves and papers,’ she said. In some rural areas, houses are decorated with ‘alpona’, and people of the house would offer sweets to the procession, she said. “It is also Chaitanya Maha Prabhu’s birthday that day,” she said.

Dol Purnima is a four day festival celebrating Krishna’s visit to one of his wives, and him not allowed entry back into the home of his main wife, and thus having a battle of throwing flowers etc at each other by the two parties, one of the friends of his main wife, and the other that of his friends who accompanied him to the house of the other wife, said Chatterjee, adding that it was the folk story attached to the flower fight.

In Krishna’s Land

Vrindavan, where Krishna played along with Radha, Holi is famous for its unique tradition, and goes on in the narrow streets for more than one day. A unique feature of the color play day is a make-believe fight between separate groups of men and women, where women go after men with brooms and sticks, pretending to hit them for troubling them, bringing back memories of watching such celebrations in Vrindavan on television news reports.

Whichever way Holi was celebrated, it created a colorful atmosphere of love, friendship, joy and fun. That is what everyone remembers, a world united, where there were no stresses, or conflicts, or prejudices. Life was simple and joyful then. If a ‘holo deck’ was created like onboard the Starship Enterprise, one could go in and return to those days of fun.




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