Need to fix a broken heart or escape from the stress of finals-week cramming? The ancient Hindu spring festival of Holi might just be the ticket.
About 300 students from more than half a dozen nations poured into the Davis Arboretum Sunday to toss and smear colored powder over each other, hose off with massive squirt guns called pichkaris, and dance feverishly to Indian and American rock.
Indian American students said they’d been celebrating Holi – pronounced “Holy” – as long as they can remember, while their American friends plunged into the fray, some for the first time, letting down their guard and their hair to run around like delighted little kids reveling in how messy or wet they could get.
“We throw colored powder all over each other, the intent is to become as colorful as possible,” declared Avanti Baronia, president of the Davis Indian Student Association, her face covered with rich green, yellow, blue, red, orange, pink and purple, the seven colors of Holi.
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The association, which co-sponsored the free-flow festival with the Indian Graduate Student Association, provided tables where celebrants could fill their plastic bags with colored powder and buckets to fill squirt guns.
“All of our color is organic, biodegradable and edible, and our long water guns, which work like giant syringes, are filled with potable water,” Baronia said gleefully. “I’ve been celebrating Holi my whole entire life – I love being in a setting where it’s OK to get dirty.”
She called her parents and grandparents to wish them happy Holi, “and my grandmother said, ‘May your life be as colorful as the colors of Holi!’ and then showed me a picture of all the great food she prepared that I was missing.”
Sharvari Bhide, a 20-year-old double-majoring in English and biology, showed up with long black hair and left with red locks streaked with yellow. “It’s exhilarating and fun to mess around and be colorful – you’re supposed to leave everything behind,” said Bhide, who was born in Pune, west India.
She and her friends Samir Akre, a biomedical engineering major, and animal science major Jilliane De Leon, laughed hysterically as they chased each other around flinging colored powder. “This is my first time,” exclaimed DeLeon, a Filipina. “It’s great!”
Hip-swinging tunes were provided by D.J. Red Warning, a.k.a. Eric Lal, and his partner Stewie Singh, who dished out “Baby Doll” by Kanika Kapoor, “Manke High Heels” by Akon and a variety of Bollywood rhythms interspersed with American hits.
Celebrants from Germany, Spain and Kuwait joined others from India, Nepal and Bangladesh in celebrating Holi, which dates back more than 2,000 years, said Abhishek Dhiman, marketing director for the Indian Graduate Student Association, who is studying air pollution. “The basic idea is victory over evil,” he said, and is inspired by the legend of the demon King Hiranyakashyap, who became jealous when his son Prahlad became enamored of the God Vishnu. The demon king got his sister Holika, who was immune to fire, to take Prahlad with her into the flames, but Vishnu saved Prahlad while turning Holika – Holi’s namesake – to ashes.
The holiday became less serious and more about light-hearted frolicking when Vishnu was reincarnated into Lord Krishna “and applied colors to his beloved, Radha, and her friends,” Dhiman said, and used water jets to spray them down.
Today, while some devotees still use the event to forgive and forget old rivals and lovers while affirming old friendships and making new ones, “there’s a lot of sexual energy and teasing around it,” said Tenzin Verma, a Sacramento-based Indian scholar who’s translating Hindu historical texts.
The organizers of Sunday’s festival achieved their goal, which was to bring Asian culture to the greater community. Natalie Camacho, 24, left her first Holi looking like a Deadhead. She and her friend Elena Jacobsen, 22, both praised the diversity and how welcome the Indian students made them feel. “I absolutely love it,” Camacho said.