Holi is a Hindu festival that celebrates the arrival of spring. It is commonly known as the Festival of Colors and takes place over two days. It is a celebration of fertility, color, and love, as well as the triumph of good versus evil. The festivities start in the evening the day before, and as is typical Indian style, no one seemed to know where anything was happening but everyone wanted to go there.
I had done a little online research and found out that one of the main celebrations was going to be near the Laxmanjula footbridge, so we headed in that direction. Our long walk through town was quiet and uneventful. It made me wonder where the big party was that I had kept hearing about. People seemed entirely too docile for a major festival celebration. We stopped at a needs store on the way and loaded up on packets of colors. Kirti chose blue and I chose pink. We also bought some water balloons because the tradition in India is to engage in water fights on the day of Holi.
We heard the music from the festival long before we got there. There was a giant pile of firewood set up in the middle of the square ready to go up in flames sometime after dusk. At 8:30 one of the local babas recited a prayer and then ceremoniously lit the fire. The music was kicked up a notch and the real party started. It was like someone had flipped a switch. Kirti opened his bag of colors, stuck his hand in, and then proceeded to wipe what felt like blue chalk powder across my face. It at least smelled good, like flowers. Holi had begun! I responded in kind by wiping my bright neon pink color across his face and shirt. People all around us started throwing clouds of colors into the air, dumping it on each other’s hair, and smearing it on strangers’ faces. Before long we were covered in bright colors from head to toe, along with everyone else in Rishikesh!
As the fire grew bigger and hotter the crowd began to dance to the music. People started running circles around the fire, which I understand is the tradition in India. We ran a large circle around it along with many other people. The heat from the fire was so hot I wondered if it could melt my coat from that distance. There wasn’t a single fireman or any safety precautions, but somehow it seemed to work out splendidly anyway. During all the chaos, I bumped into several friends from yoga school and a sweet couple from Sweden that I had met while volunteering at the animal rescue center in Goa. It was so good to see them all. Everyone was yelling “Happy Holi” as they smear you with color.
The next day we woke up bright and early and started filling our water balloons. Holi reminds me of Halloween a little in that it is just a good excuse to act silly and childish. Soon we had a bucket full of water balloons ready on the terrace to drop on our unsuspecting victims on the streets below. It didn’t take us long to find our first target. It was a couple of young India boys and we got them good. “Happy Holi” we yelled as they laughed and waved up at us.
Later in the day we headed out into the streets of Rishikesh where water balloons and colors were flying. As is typical karma, I got hit good, right in my left eye! It felt like someone had punched me! I instantly had to sit down to recover from the harsh blow. The perpetrator obviously felt bad that he had hit me in the eye and he came all the way down from the roof top terrace to make sure I was okay and to apologize. They even invited us up onto their terrace to join them! He introduced us to his family and a group of foreigners that were loading up water balloons, filling buckets and raining hell on the crowd below. His mom was the only clean and dry person in the group. Out of sheer respect she remained that way the entire time we were up there. They also fed us sweets which is the tradition for any special occasion in India.
After spending an hour or so up on the terrace we were thoroughly drenched and decided to go walk through the town to see what else what was going on. About 4 kilometers away we came upon a huge crowd dancing in the streets, spraying each other with water and flinging colors through the air. Everyone was yelling “Happy Holi” and dancing to the beat of the drums. The smiles looked especially white in contrast to the colorful faces. The childlike joy was fun and infectious! It was the epitome of Holi and an experience I’ll not soon forget!
After the celebration, we headed home to clean up. It was a huge chore! Unknowingly my bag of pink colors had spilt in my handbag and the entire contents were covered in pink! I spent the next hour picking through every single item in my purse trying to wipe the pink off it. Even still my money is pink! There are two different types of color blends. One kind (the kind we had) washes out easily. The other kind stains your clothes, hair and skin for days! I couldn’t get it off my face. I still look like I had a chemical peel! I have yet to wash my clothes but I’m hoping some of the colors remain on the white outfit I wore as a reminder of my amazing 2017 Holi celebration in Rishikesh.