Holy Holi!

Posted on March 21, 2011


Humanity in general loves spring. We like the flowers that bloom, the return of the daylight hours, and the warmth in the air. Around the world, religious celebrations and the changing seasons seem to go hand-in-hand — in the states we have Easter, Passover, and the Spring Equinox, all marking the coming of new life. In Nepal, they have something similar, though decidedly more rambunctious. They have Holi.

Marissa and me on our cab ride back home after a Holi well spent.

Holi is the festival of water and colors. It’s a springtime holiday symbolizing the return of life and color to the world. The tradition is for people to bless each other with vibrantly colored powder by rubbing streaks of it on each other’s cheeks and forehead. However, Nepal never colors within the lines, literally and figuratively. The tradition runs happily amok. On Holi, gangs of children roam the streets with water balloons filled with colored water, and teenage boys mob strangers and rub colored powder all over them. There’s also a lot of singing, dancing, eating, and the usual carrying on.

The celebrations start way before the actual holiday. Water balloon attacks are common in the days leading up to Holi, and the correct reaction to getting pegged in the back by a brick of water is to laugh, turn, and yell, “Aaja Holi hoina!” or, “Today is not Holi!” I certainly got “Holied” (term I coined) roughly five days before Holi by a water balloon air strike. Kids actually camp out on rooftops to drop water on unsuspecting victims. Thankfully, they only got part of my legs, hah.

For my first Holi, my friend Savitri—a Holi veteran—invited me to a party at Attic, a hip restaurant and bar in Kathmandu. In preparation, I was told to wear old clothes and to wrap up any water-sensitive devices, like phones and cameras, in plastic. I followed instructions, invited another friend, and we headed out, not quite knowing what to expect.

Well, this is what happened:

First, we were mobbed by a gang of teenage boys on a quiet street on our way to the party.

The attackers were friendly and wanted to pose for photos.

But I began to plot my revenge. (Note how white Savitri's shirt is at this early point in the day.)

Then, at the party, Marissa and I get dumped into a kiddie pool full of brownish pink water. Savitri got her turn too.

And the color war was on.

There was dancing...

Water dumping...

And lots of retribution.

The aftermath of a happy Holi.

So it went all afternoon. By the end of it, I had colored powder in my ears, my nose, and between my teeth. And on my way back home, I considered myself lucky for having had such a successful first Holi. My clothes were ruined, but I was ok with that. It was just a pajama top and holey jeans, anyway. (I was holey for Holi, get it?) Besides, it was well worth it for the festival of colors. And, as one happy Holi partier put it, “Life is colorful!” How true it is.

Postscript: Two days after Holi, there is still mottled color on my scalp.

All photos by Marissa Krimsky and Sandeep Chetri.