The holiday of Holi seems to have many stories and explanations connected with it. The most common is the story of Holika and Prahalad. Prahalad was the son of the demon king Hiranyakashyap. Holika was Hiranyakashyap’s sister. Hiranyakashyap fancied himself ruler of the universe and more powerful than the gods. He was frustrated and angered by his son Prahalad’s faith in Vishnu. He tried to get Prahalad to renounce Vishnu, but Prahalad wouldn’t and told his father he was only a king. Hiranyakashyap tried many ways to kill his son, throwing him over a cliff, trampling him with elephants, having snakes bite him and soldiers attack him. But Prahalad survived all of these things. Completely frustrated, Hiranyakashyap asked his sister Holika to kill Prahalad for him. Holika had been been granted the ability to survive fire by the gods, and she came up with an idea on how to kill Prahalad. She had a large pyre built and she held Prahalad in her lap in the fire – knowing herself immune but that he would burn. But the Gods were angered by Holika using their gift for evil. They removed her ability to survive fire and she was burned to death, but as a thank you for his loyalty, Vishnu kept Prahalad safe.

Holi is celebrated the evening before the “holiday” by burning large bonfires that symbolize the triumph of good over the evil. The main celebration, the festival of color, is the next morning to celebrate the coming of spring. People spend the morning throwing water and color all over each other. Holi is generally celebrated in the morning and most of the partying is over by 1 or 2 o’clock when everyone naps and things start to open back up around 3 or 4.

I wanted a chance to celebrate, but had gotten numerous warnings that it is a holiday that gets a bit rough. It is a holiday that often involves alcohol as well as bong, which is a spicy drink containing marijuana. There are stories of people filling balloons with pee, poop, eggs and rocks. Not to mention that a lot of the color is smeared on and sometimes people take advantage of this to make contact that is not normally allowed. Based on this advice, I was a bit leary to experience this holiday.

B got invited to a party by one of her Indian friends, but one who tends to collect Expats, and she was nice enough to extend the invitation. This seemed like a safer option and I’m glad I went and played Holi.

B’s friend was nice enough to email instructions to all of her “gora” (white) friends. Three of us, B, E, and I met at 9 to start our preparations. Preparation involved eating breakfast, dressing in clothing we didn’t care about, painting both finger and toe nails, and oiling as much of our body and hair with coconut oil. By the time we finished, I had ice blue nails and smelled like a macaroon. We had smartly hired a cab that was there by 9:45 to drive us to the party. We could tell it was a holiday due to the lack of traffic. The drive down took us about a half an hour, but normally would have been an almost 2 hour drive.

When we arrived, some of the residents were just starting to play and we were some of the first guests to arrive. The party took place on the podium,an area below the building where cars normally drive to park under the apartment complex. Immediately after giving hugs to the lovely lady who invited us, we proceeded to have buckets (little ones) of water dumped on us and a hose sprayed over us. Within the first 2 minutes of being there, I was soaked to the bone. Then someone came up with a handful of red powder and nicely smeared it all over our faces. And Holi had begun.

Thus followed many hours of water and color. All of the color came in big bags of powder in bright colors: red, pink, yellow, green, blue, purple. It was about the consistency of flour. You would grab a handful of it and toss or smear it on people. Faces, necks, heads, shoulders were the favorite places to attack, though I ended up with color pretty much from head to toe. They had an inflatable kiddy pool set up that generally had some level of water in it. The hose was running most of the morning. They set up some bamboo scaffolding that they attached to a sprinkler system so that there were 3 rows of water sprayers that you could stand/dance under neath. There were water guns – everything from the teeny tiny ones that you had to refill every 5 minutes to giant supersoakers, even with backpacks. And there were water balloons. There were a couple of what we would normally call water ballons, but these weren’t super common. Mostly what you had were little plastic baggies turned into water bombs. Kids (mostly) would fill them with water – and often color, then they would spin it over itself a couple of times so that the top twisted and tie the two ends into a knot- insta-water balloon.

Throughout the whole time, there was food drink and music. They had a DJ set up on the lawn (mostly out of the firing range) with giant speakers playing pop/dance (especially Bollywood) music for hours. They had a full open bar that regularly churned out both drinks but also shot glasses of colorful (and unknown) shots and there was the alcoholic watermelon full of straws that people would bring around. They had people making samosas, fresh idli, fresh dosas, and sev puri – more food than I needed for sure. Food and drink are often very communal here and this party was an extreme example. I had more food handed to me or fed to me. And drinks offered, or shared as frequently as I wanted them.

It was an amazing cross age adventure as everyone from the parental (or older) generation took part – though often in a calmer way, to kids who looked to be no older than 5 who were having fun throwing balloons at the grown-ups. There was a decent pack of boys who looked to be in the 10-12 range who were really out to get us and managed to stay wet but mostly uncolored for many hours. They were particularly good at pelting you back with a waterballoon with so much color it almost looked like you got hit with paint. Throughout the morning, people kept showing up. Every time new people arrived a chorus of “clean people” went up and everyone took advantage of the opportunity to color them – sometimes gently sometimes a bit more agressively.

By the end, I had color from head to toe (though mostly from the shoulders up). It was smeared all over my face and hair. Apparently my face was such a lovely color of reds, pinks and purples and my eyes were bloodshot enough from getting powder in them that I apparently looked rather demonic – my eyes contrasting green against all that red. I also spent some nice time in the sun (to stop from shivering from all the wet) adding a layer of sunburn (though I didn’t realize how much till I managed to extract my skin from all the color).

Overall, everyone was pretty appropriate. There were definitely some people who were a bit more drunk than they needed to be, but no one worse than they might be at a bar back home and I never felt unsafe. I trusted the things I was being hit with to be at least as clean as the water (which isn’t always saying a whole lot), though I’m not always sure about what I was drinking, or even how clean it was. I did manage to have a bag of milk as well as 2 beers and a mixed drink poured over my head. And I got an awful lot of color powder in my mouth (it tastes awful).

But it was fun. It was so much fun. It was hours (about 3) of water and color and dancing and laughing and trying to beat a super soaker with a tiny water gun and silliness and food. I am so glad I found somewhere to celebrate Holi and I wouldn’t miss it next year for the world. I fully intend to make it a tradition when I get back to the states, come on it is an excuse for a color and water fight. (Though depending on where I live, there might have to be less water – the thought of being soaked in early March in Seattle does not sound appealing).

We finally left about 2-2:30ish. (Sometime after they managed to get the cops to not shut down the music). Our cabbie was nice enough to let us call him to pick us up – even though we were soaking and dyed. Upon getting home I took some photos before jumping in the shower. (Thankfully I left my hot water heater on before I went to the party). Upon stripping I realized a couple of things. One, I should have put more oil under my clothes. Two, my white undies were now pink on the front and purple on the back. I jumped into the shower for as long as I could make my intermittent hot water last. I know that I lathered and scrubbed myself head to toe twice, shampooed my hair twice, conditioned it once (I ran out of conditioner in the shower), washed my face in the sink with face soap once, and used cue tips to dig purple out of my ears. I am now mostly Cera colored. My skin still has some pink hues to it – though it is hard to tell what is dye and what is sunburn. I know some of it is still dye. My shoulder blades are still a bit purple, but the are hard to scrub. The insides of my finger nails are a nice dark shade of purple that I haven’t figured out how to get off (I tried sharp objects). My hair still has some color streaks in it, though I won’t know how much till it dries. My scalp is definitely still colored. My face in particular still looks a bit off color. I think a lot of it is that the area around my eyes and eyebrows is still rather red. (It didn’t occur to me to oil my eyelids). My eyes are less bloodshot though they are still creating lovely goobers. (I am amazed at how well adapted eyes are to protecting themselves from the crazy things we do to them.)

Pictures from the Holi party:

               E, B, and I

Pictures taken before jumping in the shower:


And post shower:

Happy holi!