A very moving — as well as colorful — story from NPR on India’s Holi festival is well, well worth your time. It focuses on the stories of widows celebrating it:
“I have no one. I’ve lost everything. My children are gone, my parents are gone. My husband’s family doesn’t ask about me. They don’t even look for me, they don’t even know if I eat,” says Manu Ghosh, 85.
That’s her above, seen before and after the Hindu festival of Holi at her ashram in northern India.
Manu was married at age 10 and found her way to the northern city of Vrindavan at 37. By that time, she was already widowed and had lost three children, who she says all died prematurely. Manu is one of many widows among the ashrams of Vrindavan whom I met covering this year’s Holi festival.
Here’s the climax of all their work: the widows reveling in the shower of powder that turned the courtyard a cloud of pink. Some are octogenarians, but these spry widows played pranks that could rival any teenager. They have dance moves to match. They ambush the unsuspecting with the eye-stinging powder. More than once, I missed them coming straight for me. Bam! Another pigment pie in the eye. I worried they’d get sick and that all their frolicking would end badly. But these women are made of sterner stuff, having weathered abuse, rejection, isolation and worse. A little powder was not about to stop them.
Nah, I’m kidding. (Well, it is that holiday, but that’s not the joke.) This year, Holi falls on March 17 — if you go by the now-mostly-agreed-upon tradition that it begins after the full moon, and not the new moon.
Below is one interpretation of the holiday’s history, from holifestival.org, which has a whole bunch of information: its significance, traditions, and various stories involving Krishna, Siva and others.
My favorite thing from the site is the idea that Holi has a “biological signficance.” For instance: “Besides, the colours when sprayed on the body have a great impact on it. Biologists believe the liquid dye or Abeer penetrates the body and enters into the pores. It has the effect of strengthening the ions in the body and adds health and beauty to it.”
Hmm… not sure about that.
Anyway, here’s a little of the history:
Holi is an ancient festival of India and was originally known as ‘Holika’. The festivals finds a detailed description in early religious works such as Jaimini’s Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. Historians also believe that Holi was celebrated by all Aryans but more so in the Eastern part of India.
It is said that Holi existed several centuries before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the years. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped.
So go on and celebrate. And I guess, color-wise, you could argue for green beer.