On March 21st, I found myself in the middle of the South Campus Shopping Complex surrounded by hundreds of people. Through the loud cheers and excited conversations, electronic Hindi music could be heard coming from six large speakers at the front of the crowd. I was covered in mud, egg residue, and every color imaginable.
This was the festival of colors, known as Holi, religiously celebrated by Hindus, but celebrated culturally throughout much of India to welcome the coming of spring.
This was one of the most anticipated events of my study abroad experience and I had been counting down the days to this holiday since my arrival.
Holi is celebrated by coming together with your community and ‘playing’ Holi. Most of the playing involves throwing loose color powders, splashing each other with colored water, and spraying color through water toys. The day before the festivities began, we received notification that classes would be cancelled in observance of the holiday. My study abroad friends and I could no longer contain our excitement and that night we headed to the Old City of Hyderabad to visit the Charminar, the most well-known monument in the city. Our Indian friends were quick to tell us there would be little activity occurring the night before Holi and even our Uber driver laughed at our naivety, but we traveled to see what we could find any way.
Honestly, they were right. The Charminar wasn’t any more exciting this night than it had been during any other. However, we did spot three colorful people who we gleefully approached to ask for color. Suddenly, yellow was thrown in my face and hands were painting orange on my forehead and before we knew it, we had drawn a crowd. It was definitely silly and we were definitely some of the only people playing Holi so early, but it was a very memorable experience.
On the day of the actual holiday, the international dorm was awake early and full of hyper energy. People were dressed in full white outfits, some students had purchased colors, and we were all awaiting the biggest holiday of our semester. As we stepped outside our hostel we were immediately pelted with color and people directing us to the nearest festivities. I hopped on a school bus full of colorful students with smiling faces and we were on our way.
The rest of the day is a rainbow blur. After recapping the event with my fellow study abroad cohorts, it seems we all had similar experiences. There was a lot of color-throwing and water-tossing and lots and lots of dancing. Those who experienced the event through their homestay communities talked about how they were welcomed into families’ homes and feasted with their neighbors while the children ran the street and covered it with color.
At the University, color and water were also the main event, but the students seem to have incorporated their own traditions as well. For example, many students carried an egg which they would splatter onto the head of their closest, unknowing friend or they would get a group together and pick up an unexpected friend to lie in the mud. It was truly a holiday full of fun and trickery.
I loved getting to experience this holiday in India and I am so grateful to have these memories. There is truly nowhere else in the world where this holiday is celebrated so wholeheartedly and it was incredible to be in the place where it all began.