I'm quite late posting this! (Holi was March 24th.) I've been off the grid for the last few weeks soaking up the sun in Kerala and Karnataka, coastal states comprising about half of India's western seaboard. I owe you guys blogs from my travels in the backwaters of Alleppey (known as the Venice of India) and from Fort Kochi, a nexus of Indian spice trade colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, and home to India’s most ancient Jewish community established after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE. I also spent two weeks camping on a secluded beach in Gokarna investigating free will and determinism with an English chap who goes by "Frites" and who is something of an incompatibilist evangelist. (Incompatibilism is the philosophical doctrine holding that there is no place for free will in a deterministic universe.) I’ll also post about our fecund discussions on the matter and about life as a beach bum. I am in Mumbai for the next couple days and will hopefully be able to make good use of the chic internet cafes (and real coffee) to get some content up. For starters, here’s an account of my experience celebrating the Holi festival in the historic town of Hampi. Enjoy!
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival which has transformed into a popular cultural festival observed in Indian and Nepal and throughout the world by the Indian and Nepalese diaspora. Celebrations of Holi commence the night before Holi with a Holika bonfire, a religious fire ritual to destroy the evil spirit. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi, a color festival in which participants pummel one another with colors in celebration of the triumph of good over evil and beginning of spring.
Holi derived its name from the Legend of Holika and Prahlad, reproduced below (source: www.holifestival.org).
There was once a demon king by the name of Hiranyakashyap who won over the kingdom of earth. He was so egoistic that he commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. But to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana and refused to worship his father.
Hiranyakashyap tried several ways to kill his son Prahlad but Lord Vishnu saved him every time. Finally, he asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. For, Hiranyakashyap knew that Holika had a boon, whereby, she could enter the fire unscathed.
Treacherously, Holika coaxed young Prahlad to sit in her lap and she herself took her seat in a blazing fire. The legend has it that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life. Holika was not aware that the boon worked only when she entered the fire alone.
Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Lord Naarayana all this while, came out unharmed, as the lord blessed him for his extreme devotion.
Thus, Holi honors the triumph of good over evil; a validation as to the integrity of the devotee.
I celebrated Holi in Hampi, an ancient city located within the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, which occupied the southern third of present-day Indian in the middle ages. The landscape, composed of mountains of giant boulders, is punctuated by ancient temple ruins of which there are no less than 3,700 set over 36 sq km.
Hampi is a popular backpackers destination and the Holi celebrations were attended by people of all colors, so to speak. But as anyone who has ever finger painted can tell you, colors will turn to brown when mixed together, and everyone soon became matching canvases seguing out of umber singularity the moment someone broke open a new bag of color power or replenished their water gun with dye. Indian children conducted color bombing sorties, from the shoulders’ of foreigners, releasing their loads over the continent-hopping offspring of lord-of-dance-Shiva carvorting barefoot in the dirt streets; a tapestry woven of innocuous cultural appropriation, bamboozled bovine, and bhang and booze.