I would dread venturing out of my home a few weeks before Holi; the reason: boisterous children aggressively throwing coloured water balloons at me from their fortified terrace. I would always think it was yet another way of the city to show its love for a festival.
But then something else bowled over my mind, a mythical tale that is… The story goes that during the reign of Prithu, there lived a ferocious ogress (rakshashi) known as Dhundhi, who created terror by devouring young children.What made her dreadful was that she was powered by boons that insulated her against all natural disasters or attacks by men or divinity. The only “terms and conditions” that applied to her defeat was a curse by Lord Shiva that made her vulnerable to the pranks and abuses of young boys.
One fine day, the boys decided that enough was enough and they chased Dhundi out of the village, beating drums, shouting obscenities and hurling insults at her. This is apparently one of the reasons why rowdiness is accepted during Holi, including the hurtling of balloons at unsuspected people!
Tearing away our gaze from the mythical demons, something else is being defeated this Holi too. Around 1,000 widows in Vrindavan celebrated Holi inside the premises of Gopinath temple, breaking the 400-year-old orthodox tradition that barred widows from enjoying any festival, especially this, because it involved colours. The destitute were relegated to a pitiful existence, wearing the white shrouds of their dead husband. Holi was a far cry for them.
The social demon of ostracizing widows as a curse has been chased out of Vrindaban. Accompanying the widows in their celebrations were young Sanskrit scholars and priests from the temple, embracing the women into the social folds in a symbolic way…
In neighbourhood Pakistan, some things are changing too; for the first time, this Holi will be a public holiday in Pakistan. This is big step for an Islamist nation like Pakistan, where only the minority Hindu community were given a holiday to celebrate the festival of colours. The decision had come come last week came after Pakistan’s National Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution to take steps to declare Holi, Diwali and Easter as public holidays from now on.
Festivals are great emotional binders, and it’s so heartening to see that we are breaking religious dogmas to celebrate Holi for what it is: a spring festival that symbolically welcomes all colours of nature into our lives.