Holi Moly!

Lessons Learned During Holi, the spring Festival of Colors, celebrated by a conspicuous bunch of Fulbrighters in South India.

  1. Descending on an all-Indian Holi celebration in Kochi, Kerala, as a group of 10 Fulbrighters is just asking for an all-out Holi war.  (The little kids from Kochi won.)
  2. If you are a Westerner, you are a target.
  3. Keep your eyes squinted.  Sunglasses will not protect you.  Luckily, colorful powder does not cause blindness…usually.
  4. Girls are gentle.  Boys are not.
  5. If kids see you holding packets of powder, they will come and beg you to give them the bags.  It’s a bit like handing out Halloween candy, if trick-or-treaters’ modus operandi was to engage in a violent tug of war for said Halloween candy and then turn the candy against you by pelting it in your face.
  6. When kids run out of powder, they will substitute rocks.
  7. If you are worried you have broken out in a post-Holi rash, don’t worry.  Your skin has just been dyed by the pink powder.  It will go away in 72 hours.
  8. Brian loves Holi.
  9. Rickshaw drivers will not pick you up if you are a dripping rainbow monster.  (See Number 10.)
  10. Random guys with flatbed trucks are very kind and will give you a lift back to your hotel if Brian asks nicely.
  11. The owner of your hotel may request that you hose off outside before walking through his lobby in a spray of excess powder.  One of the staffers will bring you soap for your public shower.
  12. You and your Fulbright entourage will be a source of great amusement to the locals.

"Getcha Holi powder!" Wallah selling packets of Holi colors.

Brian and the Amazing Technicolor Beard.

Brian and the Amazing Technicolor Beard.

It's safer up on Dad's shoulders.

The results for Erica and me.

They may look cute, but don't be fooled.

Hitchin' a ride back to the hotel with Bryant.

Kids positively squealed with delight when they sprayed us with powder...and then they took off running for cover.

Wet t-shirt contest.

In yo' face!

*Thank you to Sony Jose for the use of his photos (those with black borders) from Kerala.

Good Versus Evil or Barefoot in India

Good triumphed over Evil last week here in Lajpat Nagar.  In Hindu lore, Lord Rama rescues his wife Sita after the demon-king Ravana has abducted her.  The festival Dussehra commemorates Rama’s defeat of Ravana and is also evidently a perfect excuse to light off a lot of firecrackers.  Here’s what happened this Thursday on Dussehra.

For the last week, men and boys have been painstakingly creating twenty-foot tall effigies of Ravana, his brother Kumbhkarna, and son Meghnath.  On Dussehra, they erect these effigies, made of bamboo, paper, and straw, throughout the neighborhood.

A bit of rope trouble caused Ravana to sway before...

...standing up!

In the afternoon, a jumbled parade winds its jubilant way through the streets of Lajpat Nagar.  A sparkly man who I assume is Ravana rides his throne atop a horse-drawn carriage and calls out to onlookers.  He manages to entice some of them onto his float for personal attention and perhaps some demon-king curses.  (Similar to Santa Claus during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, if Santa spoke to you directly and if Santa was evil.)  Kids dressed as demon lackeys (maybe?) toss fruit – fruit! – into the crowd.  A marching band does some playing and some marching and a lot of posing for my camera.

A curse upon you! (I think...)


In the evening, the real fun begins.  Just as the sun begins to set, firecrackers begin exploding, frequently, loudly, and disturbingly close by.  Music blares, and horns honk as cars inch their way toward the central square of Lajpat Nagar, which is filling with festivalgoers, anticipating the show to come.  Reena, David, and I arrive in the square and deduce from the energy of the crowd that this show is going to be good.

On a stage in the middle of the common, male and female dancers swing their long black hair around and around their heads and spin in ecstatic circles to reenact the final moments of battle between Rama and Ravana and to excite the crowd.  And what a crowd.  People seem to be sitting on every flat and semi-flat surface, crowding around the roped-off area near the effigies, jostling for a better view of the stage.  Sparks from fireworks are spraying into the air in rather close proximity to the onlookers, and I can’t help but think to myself that in lawsuit-ridden America, festivals like this would never happen.  Which is definitely a shame.

 The battle rages on the stage, and finally the rescued Sita emerges.  The crowd roars, and a flaming arrow is shot into the effigy standing about twenty feet from Reena, David, and me.  The effigy ignites slowly and then…..did I forget to mention that all the effigies are filled with firecrackers?…starts to explode.  (Before continuing to read, parents should take a deep breath.)  The deafening noise and bright light starts to get closer because the pink, glittery, giant Ravana is toppling toward us.  The crowd surrounding us turns and runs.  In this flowing sea of people, I somehow manage to lose my shoe.

Post-explosion wreckage

Ravana hit the ground and burned out without really getting too close to anyone.  (Parents: I’m sure the turn-and-run instinct was more precautionary than necessary.  I have a feeling that the falling effigy situation is normal for Dussehra.)  So the excitement died down, and with the help of some giggling kids, I miraculously find my shoe!

The other effigies are subsequently burned, as are effigies throughout the neighborhood.  We can’t see them, but we can hear them when they are lit.  After all the Ravanas, Kumbhkarnas, and Meghnaths have been burned, a spontaneous dance party breaks out in the street.  (I’ll load a video of this tomorrow.)

And this is only the beginning of Festival Season in Delhi.