This is Life in Color


Harvard students celebrate Holi.


The festival of Holi marks a very special day in the Hindu calendar. It, much like most other Hindu festivals, celebrates the triumph of good over evil, of devotion over corruption, and faith over envy.

The story behind the origins of this festival stems from a puranic myth about King Hiranyakashipu who plots to kill his own son, Prahlad, for not believing in his supreme authority. Prahlad, rather, is a devotee of Lord Vishnu, and is thus rescued by him from a giant fire, which instead takes the life of the King’s co-conspirator, Holika. Holika’s evil intentions, thus, outweigh her having been granted a boon to be unfazed by fire.

This myth has translated itself into the long-standing cultural tradition of the festival of Holi, on the day of which thousands of giant fires are set ablaze across the Indian subcontinent. The day following this celebratory affair is observed with a massive communal game of color – many of India’s widespread and deeply entrenched social problems such as income inequality, poverty and religious divide momentarily recede into the background, as millions color each other’s faces using gulaal (colored powder) and colored water (I can personally vouch for having even used emulsion paints). It is worth noting that this year, for the first time, even the border-guarding forces from India and Pakistan joined each other in a celebration of the festival; such is the vigor of the Holi tradition.

The popularity of the festival has travelled across the world along with the Indian diaspora. Even though Holi happened to fall on a Thursday, the 24th of March, this year, Harvard Dharma and Harvard India Student Group organized a celebration on the subsequent Saturday to ensure that everyone interested in immersing themselves in color, and in the Holi tradition, got the opportunity to do so on the weekend.

The event was attended by hundreds of students from across all schools at Harvard, and this year’s celebration was particularly special for the gulaal didn’t seem to run out for a very long time. All of MAC Quad bathed in varying hues of orange, yellow, red and green, as Harvard students celebrated the ideal opportunity to get rid of their most worn out pieces of clothing. Most were seen wearing traditional whites, which remained so only for a short while, while others that had no scruffy clothing to sacrifice may have realized the horror of doing laundry on a post-Holi weekend.

As students across campus have had to succumb to an unexpected return of the dreary cold over the last week, Holi has provided a reminder to everyone of the vibrancy of student-life in a multicultural environment.

Narayan Sundararajan ’19 observes that “The celebration was a lot of fun, and Dharma did a great job of organizing it. It proved to be a welcome, colorful respite from an otherwise gloomy morning.” Similarly, Simi Shah ’19 thought that Dharma’s Holi celebration “was an incredible way to bring members of the Harvard community together; they did a great job, especially by hosting the pre-festivities and making the color-throwing experience such a lovely time!”

Jacob Link ’19, who was celebrating Holi for the first time, remarked that “Holi served as the perfect transition to Spring. All in all, it was pretty neat.”

The true power of the Holi celebration lies in how obviously its vivid colors can enliven people’s spirits, and allow them to disregard gloomy weather and seemingly endless Problem Sets, albeit momentarily. Since everyone around campus has started to turn their attention to work that has been piling on their desks since before Spring Break, the celebration of Holi can be seen as a truly desirable distraction: it comes just once a year, but has the ability of leaving its mark (on your clothes, permanently)!


Pulkit Agarwal ’19 ([email protected]) just spent his first Holi away from India.