From the far west reaches of India’s Rajasthan state, this unforgettable festival, quite literally, colored my trip! Not to mention painted, shaded, tinted and – in the case of my once blonde hair – permanently dyed.
“Holi,” also known as “The Festival of Color,” is a celebration of life and harmony. It’s a day to ignore deeply ingrained caste divisions and societal separations, instead celebrating social balance and equality between all of India’s people.
Sound peaceful and dignified? It’s far from it!
What began with friendly wisps of color across faces and cheeks (symbolizing the colorful equality shared between all of India’s people) has morphed into what it is today, a full-fledged color assault.
It’s an Easter celebration gone mad. Instead of coloring Easter eggs, people color people; and instead of hunting for eggs, people hunt people.
While spending a handful of days in the city of Jaisalmer, prior to “Holi,” a gang of neighborhood kids had already set their sights on “the tourists.” Taunted daily with the massacre they surely thought would come, our only hope was to fight back.
First necessary provision: dye. Electric blue, canary yellow, Barbie doll pink, lime green – whatever your preferred shade, a happy vendor awaited around every corner. Some “Holi” participants choose to use the powders in their natural form, either showering the dusty dyes over heads or “kindly” smearing them on cheeks and foreheads. But to battle our more pugnacious adolescent opponents, we needed heavier ammunition. Liquid dye!
Now, to “deliver the goods,” the other mandatory “Holi” item is plastic water bottles. Any old plastic one-liter mineral bottle will do. First, mix the powdered dyes with water and fill the bottle to the brim. Next, punch a small hole in the bottle cap before screwing it on tightly. Finally, place one finger over the hole, shake rigorously, and squeeze! Expertly designed for the most precise water-emitting ability, these “Holi Soakers” were no joke. We were ready for war!
Ek, Dow, Teen… Go! Bounding from our hotel stoop, we flew into the madness. Speed carried us through the first offensive line, the loose-powder battery, but as we raced into their second line of artillery, a torrent of dark maroon liquid stopped us dead in our tracks. Hit with the worst ammunition of them all – a thick, sticky, most dire of all, permanent, blood-red maroon – the holi festival gyrating mob of adolescents were no longer our main concern. Flushing the concoction from our burning eyes was.
Like a scene from “Braveheart,” we fought valiantly against the hundreds (OK, maybe 20 or 30) youthful assailants. Each squeeze of our Holi Soakers spurted forth another liquid deterrent to those enemies nearest. But as our energy and ammo ran low, the defeat became evident. “We surrender… ” a white flag raised far too late. Pinning my hands firmly behind my back, girls showered me one last time with dusty dyes while the young boys continued their liquid assault – incessantly spraying my previously white top, to catch a glimpse of their very first “Western Wet T-Shirt” contest.
The battle seemed to last a lifetime, although it probably only waged for 20 minutes. It was a valiant attempt by the Holi underdogs against the trained juveniles of Jaisalmer. But we weren’t done yet!