An estimated 600 Drexel students came together to celebrate Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, at Drexel Park April 29.
The event was hosted by the Drexel Indian Undergraduate Student Association in collaboration with the Campus Activities Board and PRAGATHI, Drexel’s Indian Graduate Student Association.
Millions around the globe celebrate Holi every year by dancing under a cloud of colored powder to honor youth, fertility and love. Holi is widely known for its vivid colors, but this holiday is an ancient secular celebration that draws on various Hindu mythologies that date back before the 7th century.
Holika Dahan, another Hindu tradition, is held during the first night to celebrate the triumph of good versus evil. The night celebrates the Hindu god Vishnu’s victory over the devil Holika. Prayer rituals are often performed on this night.
The second day is known as Rangwali Holi, a carnival of colors. During this celebration, people throw fistfuls of colored powder at one another in an energetic chase. The unique celebration comes from a love story involving the Hindu god Krishna and his lover Radha. According to the legend, Krishna loved Radha but was upset about their different skin colors. Taking his mother’s advice, Krishna playfully painted Radha’s face the same color as his own, leading to the colorful celebration we have now. Today, lovers often celebrate Holi by coloring their faces the same, continuing Krishna and Radha’s everlasting romance.
This year, Holi began the evening of March 12 and ended in the evening of March 13. Due to logistics surrounding the quarter system, Holi was celebrated at Drexel past this date.
Drexel’s Holi celebration started at 11 a.m. Students waited in line to grab the first packets of color, eagerly huddled around four color stations.
Within an hour, the air was filled with powders of red, blue, yellow, pink, green and orange. Participants were covered in color from head to toe. A game of tag with colored powder spread throughout the park where everyone seemed to be “it.”
The four main powder colors, known as gulal, all have symbolic meanings: red is the color for fertility and love, blue for the god Krishna, yellow for turmeric and its medicinal uses, green for spring and new beginnings.
“I came in with completely clean clothes and left covered in color without an inch to spare and, quite honestly, I couldn’t have been happier to do so. The colors were vivid; the people were vivid; the entire experience was just so vivid,” Riju Patra, a freshman biological sciences major, said.
DISHA has hosted the Holi event at Drexel for more than 10 years, but this year was the first time the organization collaborated with CAB. Together, the organizations hoped to bring a more diverse crowd of participants. They encouraged both Indian and non-Indian students to attend.
Nikeetha Chikkala, a sophomore finance and business analytics major, took part in promoting and designing the event in DISHA. Chikkala believes that the festival plays an integral part in making Drexel a more culturally diverse and integrated community.
“Holi is important because it brings an aspect of India to Drexel. Drexel is such a multicultural university, which leads to some things getting diluted out by the different organizations,” she said. “We try our best to bring the Indian culture to Drexel.”
Shortly after passing out colored powder, Bollywood music blared from speakers shifting the celebration from a chase in color to a dance in color. Rhythmic vibrations from a dhol, a double sided traditional Indian barrel drum, echoed throughout the park.
Five pools filled with water spread around the park but were soon filled with color from the powdered participants. Students chanted as friends carried friends into the pools to be cleaned of the excessive powder covering their bodies.
Around 1 p.m. the crowd lined up for lunch, exhausted from the uninterrupted festivities.
Hungry students amassed in a lengthy line stretching to the end of Drexel Park, all eager to try the aloo roll, paneer roll and rose lassi menu.
“I don’t really get that many opportunities to experience Indian culture. Today I got to experience both Indian culture and Indian food — two in one!” Neil Eelman, a sophomore electrical engineering major, said.
After lunch, the rejuvenated crowd jumped back into the celebrations after picking up newly dispersed packets of color. The festivities lasted until 3 p.m.
This year drew many returning participants based on last year’s success. Sowmya Jasti, a sophomore psychology major, returned from last year and talked about her experience.
“I love the familial aspect. I love that I can rub a little red or blue on anyone’s face. I really think it brings Drexel students a lot closer together — it’s a little piece of India that everyone can enjoy,” Jasti said.
Pranali Jagasia, a sophomore communications major, compared her Holi 2016 experience to that of this year, “This year was far more crowded, diverse and fun. I saw so many non-South Asian people. It’s always amazing to see other people enjoy your culture. There was no time during the whole event that was empty or lifeless. We had people dancing right up until the last song.”
The festival helped bring South Asians back to their traditional roots regardless of being situated hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away from home.
“Some of these students are international students and they feel so homesick. It brings back the nostalgic feeling that makes them feel good and feel home which is ultimately what DISHA hopes to instill in all students,” commented Chikkala.
Members of DISHA work together year-round to spread an awareness of Indian culture and heritage among the Drexel community and to help ensure a homey atmosphere for Indian students at Drexel. The organizations collaborate to host signature quarterly events welcoming both the Indian and non-Indian community. In the fall, the organization hosts Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights with an abundance of food, dance and music in Main Building. The winter is signified with the festival of Lohri around a bonfire and with cups of hot chai in Race Lawn. The colorful celebration of Holi marks the end of winter and beginning of spring in Drexel Park. The year is concluded with a summer Cricket Tournament in Buckley Field honoring Indian sports on India’s Republic Day.
Holi has inspired imitations of the colorful festival around the world. Internationally, Holi has been adopted outside of the traditional celebration. An annual music festival in London called the Holi Festival of Colors adapts Holi in a colorful outdoor concert. The Color Run, a globally prominent 5K race celebrated with powdered color, also draws its inspiration from Holi.
The essence of any festival is to take a break from the daily routine of life. In the midst of a hectic midterms week, the ebullient festival of colors gave Drexel students an opportunity to ease stress by sharing a united feeling of joy, brotherhood, and color.