March 1-2, 2018 marks the Indian celebration of Holi, the festival of colors. If you can’t rejoice the coming of spring by throwing colored powder all over one another, keep reading for some other suggestions.
What Is Holi?
First, it’s not a typo. I didn’t mean to type “holy.” Though this holiday does have its origins in Hindu lore, this isn’t one of those holy days when most Hindus fast and visit the temple. On the contrary, it’s more like the Indian version of Mardi Gras.
Backstory: Evil demon king has a son who believes in god. King gets pissed and tries to put a stop to it (being evil, all these methods involve trying to kill the kid). King’s sister, Holika, has some magic shawl that’s fireproof, so the king convinces her to wrap herself in the shawl, sit the kid in her lap, and be lit on fire. Crazy, right? Well, it backfires, so that Holika perishes while the kid, praying all the while, survives. Ultimately the king is vanquished when Vishnu shows up in the form of a half-man half-lion and defeats him.
Relevance: On day one of Holi (March 1), a giant bonfire is lit to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
Day 2: You know those Color Runs that are gaining popularity? It’s something like that, but without the running. Just festive and fun. Everyone wears all white, there are piles of colored powder everywhere (or buckets of colored water to be used with pichkari, water shooters), and you run around throwing color on one another until the supply is done and everyone is coated beyond recognition. Here’s a summary.
Living in Cleveland, Holi rarely occurs when the weather is conducive to large outdoor color wars. Nor is there a suitable venue for such a mess. So I have to enjoy vicariously through other means. Which brings me to:
Popular Holi Recipes
Easy answer: Go find an Indian restaurant and order some yummy treats.
Not-so-easy answer: Try making these at home.
[My answer: My mom will be making them and I get them without even having to ask.]
I’m providing links in lieu of recipes because of the recipes listed, I’ve only ever made pua, and even that I didn’t do right, so you really don’t want my recipes. Maybe one year I’ll learn, but in the meantime, here are some links to get you started.
Kachori are savory round stuffed, fried, flaky pastries. They can be made with different stuffings, but my favorite is peas (matar). They’re served warm with spicy coriander chutney or tangy sweet tamarind chutney (I prefer the latter). Here’s a recipe to try.
I don’t even know how to describe this properly. They’re essentially spongy dumplings made from lentils, soaked in yogurt, and topped with chutneys and spices. I don’t think that’s really giving it the credit it’s due; it’s got a fascinating blend of textures and flavors to delight your palate. (There. That’s better). Try this Dahi Vada recipe.
My mouth is watering just thinking about these. Can’t wait to get a batch from my mom! They’re fried sweet disks of flour, milk, and sugar. There are many varieties, but my favorite also has banana and coconut flakes. The batter is mixed together, rested for an hour, then fried. But, I kinda suck at frying, so I’d end up cheating and making pua pancakes instead (same batter, but cooked like pancakes instead of fried). I know they’re not the same, which is why I just let my mom make them.
Anyhow, here’s a recipe if you want to give it a try.
If you really want to get into the Holi spirit, you’ve got to get a few popular Holi songs stuck in your head. There are surely others, but these are the top ones for me. As I went through these videos, I did discover that even without translations, they’re not exactly totally wholesome (harassment, infidelity, and drunkenness, to name the top themes that come to mind). Hmm. Maybe there is room out there for a catchy, less depraved Holi song.
Full disclosure: I’ve never experienced Holi in India. But from these videos, it’s clear that it’s basically a giant colorful flash mob.
“Holi Ke Din” from Sholay
“On the day of Holi, hearts bloom,
mix up in colors.
Friends let’s put aside our resentments,
even enemies hug each other.”
Of course, it starts off with some rhyming lines of harassment and pushback. But let’s not dwell on that part.
“Rang Barse” from Silsila
Yeah, this video’s basically about a guy flirting with his girlfriend in front of his wife and her husband. Oh, and getting drunk and repeating himself a bunch. Man, I really need to stop trying to revisit childhood favorites.
“Balam Pichkari” from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
This one’s from a newer movie, and they’re basically singing about how a straight-laced girl, given alcohol, goes wild. And there’s certainly some less-than-upstanding behavior happening. But let’s be honest here. Compared to the last one, at least these folks are single, amirite? Yikes. This music category really isn’t winning any converts, is it?
“Chhan Ke Mohalla” from Action Replayy
Okay, this one’s actually kinda cute. Yay, Bollywood.
“Hymn for the Weekend” by Coldplay & Beyoncé
If you start watching this at the 1:05 mark, you’ll see kids playing with colors. Sure, they’re following one of the Coldplayers (Chris Martin, I think?), but it’s like they’re this dysfunctional little posse that keeps throwing color in their own faces. Which I suppose is as naturally indicative of what Holi is really like as is the fact that it’s only being celebrated by this small group of people, and absolutely nobody else. Also, if the video gives you the impression that there will be fireworks later, you may be disappointed.
To their credit, though, the song does seem to capture the essence of bhang, a cannabis-based drink that is freely consumed that day. So kudos to Coldplay for getting that right, as they sing about “feeling drunk and high.”
Other Ways To Celebrate Holi
Now that you’re all initiated into the Indian-American interpretation of Holi, I’d say it’s now time (at least for those in colder climes) to find other ways to play Holi. Which, relatively speaking, are pretty darn tame.
A few years back (okay, that may now be closer to a decade now, yikes), I organized a Holi craft project in my kids’ school. We brought in enough white t-shirts for each of the 3-5-year-olds. While the art teacher balked at my first idea of having the kids don the shirts and throw paint all over each other, we settled on a variation. We lay the t-shirts on the tables, next to each kid. Each kid got a small bowl of paint and a stamp (a sponge cutout, perhaps? I can’t recall). They then went around the room and stamped each shirt. By the end of the session, each shirt had been stamped with multiple shapes and colors in a random pattern. We wrote Holi 20xx! on it (xx=whatever the heck year it was), and left them to dry. The kids each got to take home a unique keepsake, along with the memory of the controlled chaos that was the art class filled with wandering paint-toting children.
On a smaller scale, I’ve gotten together with one of my friends to create one-off Holi t-shirts (cut out desired design on freezer paper, iron to the shirt, use as a stencil while painting). Even easier (craft-wise) would be to hand kids Sharpies to color all over a white t-shirt, but those aren’t quite as washable off everything else. Consider carefully.
Other ways to celebrate Holi:
- Dress up in colorful clothes and yell ‘Happy Holi’ to everyone you see,
- Play paintball,
- Eat Froot Loops,
- Create a Tissue Paper Rainbow Craft
- Play Twister,
- Create Kool-Aid Snow Paint
- Try any of these other color crafts to pass the time
Any other suggestions? I could really use an infusion of creativity here because Cleveland’s supposed to get snow.