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festival of colors

According to an old Hindu myth, there once lived a king of demons who was granted near immortality by Brahma, the god of creation. He grew powerful and arrogant, attacked the heavens, and demanded that all people worship him alone. However, his own son refused, instead offering prayers to Vishnu, Hinduism’s supreme being. Unable to kill his own son, the demon king commanded his sister, Holika, to burn him alive.

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Being a demoness herself, Holika was immune to fire, so she led the disobedient youngster to a pyre and sat on the flames, holding him in her arms. To her own astonishment and that of all the onlookers, Holika burst into flames while the young Vishnu devotee remained unscathed. As the fire devoured her, Holika erupted into a conflagration of vibrant colors, thereby giving birth to a festival that is enthusiastically celebrated throughout the Hindu world every spring.

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Holi, the festival of colors, is Hinduism’s answer to Carnaval — a time when cultural norms are relaxed and irreverent behavior is celebrated. Revelers young and old of both sexes and all castes intermingle, tossing handfuls of colored powders (gulal) at each other and dousing each other with water.

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Although we are far from India, Kenya has a sizable Indian community so Holi colors are not hard to come by, and there is usually someone within the Embassy community who has served in India or whose spouse is Indian.

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By the time we arrived at the party, the festivities were well underway and we, like all new arrivals, quickly got mobbed by rainbow-colored revelers who greeted us with messy hugs and handfuls of gulal. Although the youngsters were understandably more enthused than the adults, there were plenty of grown-ups who also got in on the fun.

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We missed last year’s festivities because we were on the road. This year, we were happy to get a small taste of this colorful holiday and greet the coming of spring in style.

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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. happy hollly

    March 23, 2013
  2. How fun! I believe there’s a “Colors” race here in Cincinnati in which people are doused with paint as they cross the finish line. My husband wants to take part. These pictures made me think of how fun that would be. Maybe next time.

    March 23, 2013
    • Tell him to hold his breath as he reaches the finish line…we can’t imagine that paint would taste fun.

      March 23, 2013
  3. Thanks for explaining the origin. I didn’t know where this festival came from. I’m surprised all castes would intermingle—even in India? Really cool photos!

    March 24, 2013
    • I can’t speak for India – I’ve never been, and S has but not during Holi – so my information on this comes from the internet. But our Indian friends confirmed that the origin is certainly attributed to the burning of Holika, which represents the triumph of good over evil.

      – D

      March 24, 2013
  4. Looks like a lot of fun!

    March 24, 2013
    • That it was – almost as much fun to observe as it was to participate.

      March 24, 2013

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