Happy Phagwah from New York!
Last Sunday, Chloe, Krysti & I made our way out to Ozone Park in Queens to celebrate Holi (होली)!
What is Holi? It’s a spring festival celebrated by Hindus, Buddhists & Sikhs. While it’s primarily celebrated in India, Nepal & Sri Lanka, it also goes on in places where there are large communities of Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs.
Holi is a festival of radiance (Teja) in the universe. During this festival, different waves of radiance traverse the universe, thereby creating various colours that nourish and complement the function of respective elements in the atmosphere. (Wikipedia)
Holi lasts 16 days & is celebrated on the last full moon of winter, usually at the end of February or start of March. It’s a way of marking the beginning of spring. The major part of Holi consists of people throwing coloured powder (Gulal) at one another! Everyone carries brightly coloured powder in pouches & small jars, fill super soakers with purple dye & brandish bottles of baby powder. The bright colours are said to signify life, energy & joy. Traditionally, Āyurvedic medicinal herbs like Neem & Bilva were used to colour the powder, which helped ward off colds & flu!
Primarily, Phagwah is a commemoration of the triumph of good over evil. It is traced back to the tradition of the demon king Hiranyakasyapu who tried to kill his own son, the prince named Prahlad, but Lord Vishnu’s blessings saved the boy each time. Eventually, Hiranyakasyapu’s sister Holika (from whose name the word ‘Holi’ derives) attempted to kill the boy by taking him along into fire. Holika who herself was immune to burning. The fire burned down Holika to ashes and Prahlad came out, safe and sound.
Phagwah is also associated with other religious traditions. For example, it is associated with the opening of god Siva’s third eye and the consequent end of Kamadeva, the god of erotic love. Also related to Phagwah is the story of Dhundhi, the invincible ogress who teased the children in the kingdom of Prithu. She was made to flee the kingdom by the shouts, noise, and pranks of the kingdom’s mischievous kids. In addition, Holi is also associated with the tradition of the eternal love of Krishna and Radha. (The Bustle of Phagwah)
I don’t remember when I first heard about Holi, but I do remember seeing photos of it years ago, & knew it was something I had to do! Experiencing Holi in India is something I definitely have to do before I die, so when I found out that Holi was celebrated in New York, I didn’t have to be told twice! I immediately told Chloe & we made plans to go.
In Queens, New York, a parade — which contains floats & groups of drummers — snakes its way along the street, before ending up at a park where everyone goes crazy slinging coloured powder about! Not content to just stand on the side of the road & watch, we snuck under a barricade to join the revelers!
While traditionally people wear white to Holi, most people were just wearing jeans & hoodies. I wore a full-length white dress from Forever 21, a purple sweater from Gap & a jacket from H&M.
There is no better way to cast off the grey of winter than literally covering yourself in bright colours. It was an incredible experience, almost transcendent — I felt as if I was soaking up beauty & joy & optimism, absorbing it through my skin.
We had such an amazing time. Everyone was so friendly & welcoming & sweet. We got lots of hugs & so many people gave us huge smiles before smearing a stripe of magenta, royal blue, deep purple or lime green across our faces! People were going ballistic throwing baby powder all over one another — it was like a perpetual dust storm in front of us. Families walked around together, their faces stained purple with dye.
I haven’t done something which made me feel so alive in such a long time. Everyone looked so beautiful covered in colour, & I felt beautiful too. When I got back to Manhattan, I walked from the West Village to the East Village, bedaubed with pink, purple, orange, blue, purple & green, beaming at people who didn’t know what to think! I didn’t want to wash it off… My normally white hair still has some pastel staining & I love it.
Have you ever been to a Holi celebration? Would you like to go?
Photos (except for the last one) by (who else?) Chloe Rice.
Extras For Experts:
Angel wrote about her Holi obsession here!