My daughter and I visited our local Hindu temple on Sunday to join in the celebration of Holi – a Spring holiday in Hinduism: “Festival of Colors“. Holi is my favorite Hindu holiday – see also my 2010 Happy Holi post.
Holi is a fantastic holiday for several reasons:
- Playful & Messy: People mingle rubbing and throwing colors on each other while they smilingly wish each other “Happy Holi!”. Like Mardi Gras, social norms are relaxed during Holi — often disturbingly so in India (a country with complex social norms).
- Equalizer: Holi is an equalizer – income, caste, profession and religion symbolically disappear on that day.
- Spring Celebration: The holiday probably originated as a season festival and only later had religious interpretations layered on top (much like Easter). Interestingly, the people I asked only had the faintest notion of religious tones — but they were all there for a good time.
My daughter has never been to a Hindu temple and was a bit anxious. But no sooner had we arrived that people introduced themselves and their children to us in order that we feel welcomed. The holiday began on a serious note with Vedic chanting led by the priests who also performed a fire offering and the passing of prasad. Then the fun began!
My daughter, a budding artist, could not imagine anything better than what followed: wild color splashing. Within minutes she got the hang of it and like everyone else, she was walking up to strangers, wishing them “Happy Holi” and taking turns rubbing bright colors on each other’s faces and clothes. This went on for about an hour amongst a huge crowd full of smiles and laughs. The day was topped off with delicious vegetarian Indian meal. My daughter, usually a very picky eater who is not fond of spices, tasted and enjoyed everything — the gaiety opened her palate, I guess.
With all these experiences and chatting with several families, my daughter again learned that very different people and customs can be a lot of fun! She enjoyed a weird foreign situation feeling confident about her ability to fit in. What could be better?
Concerning religion: We met lots of kind, friendly people who did not worry about the fate of my daughter’s soul — they weren’t being friendly with hopes of saving her from damnation or getting her to join their temple. They weren’t worrying about my daughter’s moral up-bringing. In fact, several people told us that Hindus believe that everyone’s path is special — we are all one family. My daughter [a staunch, natural Atheist] said, “If I had to choose a religion, I’d be a Hindu.” Maybe her atheism got softened that day. I did not want to ruin her new found comfort by discussing the dark side of Hinduism — that could wait for another day. Besides, Hinduism in America, like Buddhism in the West, has far less superstition and is less parochial than much of the Hinduism and Buddhism in Asia. Hinduism here and amongst our American Hindu friends is very progressive.
We had a fantastic day.