Holy man, Holi Festival in Jaipur!

29-Mar-2002

Holy man, the Holi Festival here in Jaipur was more than a little bit crazy. What a riot! he-he. It's a national Indian holiday and the second-biggest festival of the year for Hindus (after Diwali, which is celebrated sort of like Christmas if you're Hindu). I've never seen anything like it. And I got totally covered with all sorts of florescent dyes from head to toe throughout the day. I have one or two pictures, too -- you can't even recognize me. Good thing that I planned ahead and wore clothes that I can now throw away. :)

It starts the night before with some large bonfires lit in the streets and people gathering around to watch, feed the fires and then take a little piece of the action home with them (literally), as a symbol to cleanse their house of any bad things (or so I'm told).

The next morning people are up bright and early and walking around, door-to-door, starting at around 8am. They come to your house carrying a bag of bright florescent powdered dye (actually, tikka) which they proceed to smear all over your face and hair quite vigorously. Then they laugh and give you a hug, or at the very least shake your hand and probably wish you a Happy Holi. Then you serve them sweets or a snack (or if you're visiting their house, they serve you some sweets), and continue on their merry way, taking you along with them. Strange, huh? At every house the gang you're a part of grows bigger, as you add at least one or two people per household. And also at every house you visit, you get at least one new color added to your face and hair, and you get to try a new and unusual Indian sweet. Some of them are really quite yummy. And it's great entertainment all the while.

And so it goes and the group keeps getting larger and larger, going from house to house until it's like a gange of hooligans, only this gang I was in was mostly made of of married men in their mid-30s, 40s and 50s. Covered in colourful dyes from head to toe. And in every bright color you can think of (red, green, pink, purple, blue... and lots more rich colors that you can only seem to see in India).

Then eventually your gang of smiling, civilized hooligans meets up with another gang somewhere in the streets, a colorful exchange is made (of course) until you are now one really big gang of very colored people. he-he.

Eventually we arrived at someone's house where a lot of chairs were set out, so we sat down and were served heavy shots of whisky at 9:30 in the morning -- at first I took it straight, because I don't drink the tap water, and then later I said what the hell and just downed the whisky-water mixture anyway. Yahoo. And no problems at all. Bottom's up!

I forgot to mention that in the morning, first the children go out-and-about, pelting each other with colors and the occassional coloured water balloon. I got creamed with a water ballon while on the local bus the next day but (while wearing good clothes), and at least it wasn't a strong one. After the kids do their rounds, the men go around doing the same thing, and then the ladies go around and cover each other in colors. Everyone seems to stay within their social structure (boys to boys, men to men, women to women, such as usually is the case in India). Where else except in India would you ever find such a crazy festvial?!

By the afternoon everyone is driving around the city, to and from their relative's places where they give each other an equal dose of bright colors wiped onto their face, hugs, eat sweets and danced around in utter craziness, sometimes to the sound of a happy man beating on a drum.

As we drove through the streets of Jaipur we'd experience some random acts of color violence -- once I was pelted with some red dye and accompanying laughter as we drove along a narrow street, me sitting on the back of a scooter. Twice I was soaked with coloured water by these giggling little kids far above, who had a water gun and stood watching from their second- or third-story apartment.

The only shops open on this national holiday are the ones selling either colourful dyes, water cannons, balloons or Indian sweets -- or sometimes all of the above, for the particularly enterprising individual. It's strange to drive through the streets of Jaipur, a city of about 2 million people, and see thousands and thousands of shops closed, as if there were riots going on in the streets. And gangs of color thieves at ever corner, just waiting to douse you in their favorite color and then shake your hand and laugh.

Uncle Shiv Arora (who went out of his way to really show me the festival -- he's been a part of it for many years, and I saw a part of the festival that most foreigners never get to see) says that on this day anything goes in the streets. The normal rules of acceptable conduct in india get thrown out the window. So you've been warned, particularly if you're a female. "Dirty acts," as uncle calls them are possible. If you don't want to participate, stay indoors. :)

And that was that. What a great, lively and colourful festival. If you're ever in India around March (I believe the date changes every year), be sure to check this festival out... very much worth your time! That's it for now, over and out. k.

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kelly martin www.redbeet.com CANADA



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