How to rock Holi in Seattle

The author's daughter, Ditti, showing off her colors for Holi last year. (Photo by Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh)

The author’s daughter, Driti, showing off her colors for Holi last year. (Photo by Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh)

As bars cash in on colorful Mardi Gras and St. Patty’s Day boozing this month, a massive all-ages festival promises more bright hues, soiled clothes and a bit of Bollywood to honor an ancient tradition.

Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, marks the onset of spring, and celebrates the victory of good over evil. It was celebrated in India on Monday, but here in the Seattle area you can celebrate all weekend. Legend has it that after receiving the gift of near invincibility from Lord Brahma (the creator), Hiranyakashyap, an arrogant demon, declared himself God to his subjects and forces them to worship him. But pride has its fall where he least expects it: in his son, Prahlad, a staunch devotee of Lord Vishnu (the sustainer) who refuses to accept his father as the supreme Lord of the Universe.

Hiranyakashyap becomes so angry with his son that he decides to get rid of him. In one such attempt, he sends his evil sister Holika, holding a special blessing that protects her from fire, to kill Prahlad. She sits on the pyre with Prahlad on her lap. But as a true devotee to the Lord of the Universe, her nephew is saved, while Holika burns to ashes.

Today, Hindus observe the victory by burning Holika’s effigy (Holika Dahan), celebrating with bonfires, singing and dancing.

Back home in India, Holi is replete with music, dance, and of course, a rainbow of colors. The day begins with prayers and savoring special delicacies. Afterwards, friends start with the mayhem, knocking on doors to pull you out and spray you with a mash-up of bright colors. (And everyone on the street is fair game — children, elders, rich, poor, you name it).

Festival goers go all out on Holi last year in downtown Redmond. (Photo by Alan Brenner)

Festivalgoers went all out on Holi last year in downtown Redmond. (Photo by Alan Berner)

As a child, I was terrified of this day and attempted to play Holi hooky.

I would tell my mother to lie to my friends and tell them I was too sick to play Holi when they came to the door. If they charmed their way into my bedroom somehow, I would hide under the bed. While it is a boisterous and fun festival, it is also extremely messy with the dyed water launched from spray guns, buckets and balloons. If all goes well, it escalates into a full-fledged dyed water fight in the streets.

This may be the only day out of the year you score points for looking grimy: the dirtier and more colorful your clothes are, the closer you are to reaching “rock star” status.

Just after my ninth Holi, I stopped resisting the mischief. (Plus, nobody takes “no” for an answer, and avoiding an attack isn’t worth the trouble). In the very rare case where you’ve convinced your “Holi sprayer” that you’re allergic to dye, puking in front of them to prove that you are indeed, unwell, you are spared with a mere tilak, a dot on your forehead.

Outside, people celebrate with their colors on the streets shouting “Holi hai!” (“It’s Holi!” ) throughout the day. Bhaang (a strong cannabis-derived intoxicant) is the drink of choice during Holi. If you’d like to stay sober, thandaai (a drink of milk and dry fruits) is the smooth alternative.

And nothing screams “celebration” more than deep-fried, fatty food. Gujiya (fried dumplings stuffed with nuts, khoya cheese and coconut), Kachori (savory fried dumplings with masala), Jalebi (intricate fried pretzel type sweet dish), potato curry with Puri (Indian bread) are made especially for this day.

Gujiya is traditionally prepared on Holi. (Photo from mellownspicy.com)

Gujiya is traditionally prepared on Holi. (Photo from mellownspicy.com)

In India many neighborhoods have their own Holi events. There’s inevitably a DJ playing Bollywood songs or local musicians playing the dhol (double-sided Indian drum), and getting everyone in the spirit of the festival, there’s lots of food and drinks, loads of colors and plenty of water. The best way to know how well you’ve celebrated Holi is to dress in white. If there’s not a trace of white by the end of the day, you’ve proven you know how to celebrate!

Ever since overcoming my OCD for clean clothes, I’ve never missed Holi. I’ve been thrown in colored water pits, have had water balloons thrown on me and have come very close to tasting Bhaang.

And since it is also my husband’s favorite festival, our daughter has celebrated Holi from even before she knew how to talk. Only last year, she had to make do with colors from her dad’s art supply closet as we had just about settled into our new lives here in the U.S. This year, however, we do plan on celebrating Holi with the Seattle Indian community.

While it can be an overwhelming sight at first, you may never otherwise have a meaningful excuse to throw colors on people without entering a paintball competition. Once you get in the mood and absorb the energy of the festival, you’ll be able to experience the camaraderie between friends, make new ones and understand the magic of Holi.

Experience Holi in the Greater Seattle area:

Saturday afternoon, March 22:

Saturday night, March 22nd:

Sunday, March 23:

Saturday, April 12:

Padmaja Ganeshan-Singh moved to the U.S. with her young family in the fall of 2012 from India. With a profile that could very well be that of the quintessential South Indian poster girl, Padmaja sheepishly admits she's an engineer only by chance and an MBA by accident. In Seattle, she is a columnist for ParentMap, a local parenting magazine and has contributed to the International Examiner and Expat blogs. Padmaja writes about her cultural experiences and faux pas with an extremely curious little daughter. You can stop by Padmaja’s blog for a glimpse of her adventurous life at vasudhaiyer.blogspot.com.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Colorful writing like the festival Holi! Thoroughly enjoyed reading!!! Love the idea of explanation of story with Holikya…am sure very few people would know this reason behind Holi. Keep writing. ..

  2. Absolutely amazing read. ..just makes me quite nostalgic about the festival and the enegy it brings along. My notorious pranks to throw colours at the not so participative family members is unforgettable…thanks for making me re love those amazing moments :)

  3. Enjoyed reading! It was more of me & me searching in those colors, the memories getting added to the hard disks year on year!

  4. Refreshing read! Brings back memories from childhood and college days! Ahhh I’m craving for jalebis now :(

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