I submitted my body to strangers as a canvas to be painted.
Swept up in the cheer and colour, my terror of crowds was forgotten … which was a good thing because we were caught up in chaos!
Attendees could no easily explain to me what was happening than I would be able to convincingly tell a desert nomad about Santa, dressed in red, with white beard and arriving by sleigh. It is when meeting foreigners that we stumble to explain the legends and traditions that are the fabric of our upbringing.
Holi is a Hindu festival in India exceptional for its fun and inclusion of everyone in clouds of powdery dyes to mark the arrival of spring. The red, yellow, pink and green powders flung around in Barsana, the town we visited, come from natural ingredients such as turmeric, beetroot, berries and flowers. It doesn’t take long for them all to blend into a universal smudge.
On a fun level there is re- enactment of a game the Hindu deity Lord Krishna played with his consort Radha. The young Krishna, being of dark complexion, had noticed the difference between their skin tones. In a bid to look similar, he was encouraged by his mother to smear colour on Radha’s face as an expression of love. This scenario has been repeated for centuries now and everyone from all walks of life is encouraged to join in the painting of bodies until each becomes almost unrecognisable …
… and for a day or two everyone is equalised.
Well of course Radha and her friends, retaliated to being plastered with paint. After one such session they chased the boys off with branches. And so the Lath Mar Holi festival re-enactment came into being. Women with sticks confidently walk through the streets looking for men to beat.
Participating males nowadays are well prepared with home made shields to hide under and all bashing, while impressively noisy, is done in a spirit of playfulness!
We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race.