My face froze as I felt a soft hand rub my cheek from the side. As I glanced, I saw the warm smile of a woman, covered in gulal powder and determined to shower me in it as well.
As a first time Holi-goer at Radha Madhav Dham temple in Austin, this unapologetic paint throwing combined with words of kindness and celebration puzzled me at first. Nicknamed the festival of colors, Holi day celebrates the “triumph of evil over good,” according to holifestival.org.
“Happy Holi!” she yelled!
At exactly 7 p.m., as the sun began to set, a hue of pink began to fill the air, then blue, purple, green, orange and every shade in between followed – the celebration had started. Cheerful sounds of traditional music and laughter rang in the ears of everyone in the temple’s outdoor holy space, while the bright powder signified the colors brought by spring.
“This isn’t our first Holi, we do it a lot back home(India),” said attendee Prahlad Patel, who is named after the honored religious figure.
As the first part of the celebration and dancing died down, a fire lit up – revealing the colorful powder paint in the air. In Hindu culture, the significance behind the ceremonial lighting of the fire stems from the story of Prahlad who worshipped Lord Naarayana rather than the demon king Hiranyakashyap and his sister, Holika, who were his father and paternal aunt. The king tried to kill his son by having Holika hold him in her arms in a blazing fire.
“Holika took Prahlad in her arms and sat on a fire,” Patel said. “Because he worshipped [Lord Naarayana], God saved him from death – and Holika burned.”
For many, this was a traditional experience felt since childhood. For those outside the religion, the festival was about learning from a drastically different culture, one they may have never explored until now.
“We didn’t do stuff like Holi in our small town, the basic religions we had were Catholic and Baptist,” first time attendee Alexis Crutchfield said. “Even non-denominational Christian was rare, so I’d never seen a Hindu temple.”
The event was advertised as being open to everyone, regardless of religion or other different characteristics. This gave individuals like Crutchfield an “eye-opening experience.”
“It was very bright, colorful and exciting, you don’t get that with a lot of other religions. I was raised Southern Baptist and we didn’t have as much fun,” Crutchfield said. Everyone was so kind and welcoming, plus they were all encompassing and open to non-Hindu people.”
As the festivities prepared to come to a close, friends, family and kind strangers hugged and kissed one another on the cheeks. When I prepared to leave, a group of children stared suspiciously at me while standing in a circle. A second after putting my head down I was met with a face full of orange and red paint.
“Happy Holi!” they shouted, bidding farewell until colors fill the air again next year.
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