Holi in HKU: An Inside Perspective

March 19, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

 Celebrating Holi is simple: there is coloured powder, there is water (or beer, or any liquid there is, really…), and there are people. There are no rules.

Some of my earliest memories of this festival include being tossed into the beach simultaneously with buckets of water chucked at me from different directions. And as I struggled to wipe water from my eyes, I’d catch a glimpse of water all around me bathed in red, yellow, pink, green, colours of every shade, blending together to form an incredibly vivid canvas. I’ve only played Holi in Singapore and India, but this year for the first time I celebrated in Hong Kong and it was an experience to remember. Organized by the HKU South Asian Society and Student Cultural Exchange Network (known as SCENe) on Repulse Bay last Saturday, my first Holi away from home was definitely one to remember.
(To read the perspective of someone new to the festival, check out my fellow blogger Heey Jin’s experience here).

Every year, HKU’s South Asian Society plans Holi on the beach. For the first time this year, SAS collaborated with SCENe, a HKU organization which aims to integrate cultures of the world through various events. It was also the first time I’ve played Holi in the cold (March in Singapore and India is usually hot). The celebration started off dry, as it always does with people throwing coloured powder on each other…sneaking up from behind and smearing colour on their friends’ faces, greeting new (clean clothed, teehee) arrivals by rubbing red, or orange, or pink, or green on them while laughing and cheering “Happy Holi!” – standard. 

Then came the water. Six buckets were being passed around, each filled with icy cold water from the beach, and each with a target group or person. Eventually, I watched my friends surprised from behind with red and pink water, and heard their laughter and their yelps. Ritualistically, I had buckets of beach water thrown at me too – but this time, it was freezing cold, something I forgot to anticipate. But drenched in icy water on a windy beach was definitely a novel, and memorable experience. As for the colour, after another year of waiting, my eyes feasted on the hues thrown around. And as always, the celebration got wild…

Holi is India’s most vibrant festival. The festival also stems from Hinduism; the day before Holi is celebrated, traditionally, a pious bonfire of sticks is created around which one is supposed to walk three/five/seven times. The prayer part of the festival (thank you for the story, Mumma!) comes from the tale of a King named Hiranyakashipu (thank you for spelling, Google), whose pure hearted son and evil sister Holika stood in a pyre, lit by fire. The flames consumed Holika (because she was evil), but the pure and innocent prince survived; hence, the fire we burn in prayer commemorates the story and celebrates rebirth, life, and the arrival of spring. (Disclaimer: this is a very abbreviated version of the tale, Wikipedia provides a comprehensive explanation so please read that hehehe). When people think of Holi, they don’t traditionally focus on the prayer aspect, but personally I’ve always found something powerful and magnetic about walking around the fire. And, the colourful celebration of Holi nods to another Hindu tale – a love story between Lord Krishna and his love Radha. Apparently, the “gulal” red powder, an indispensible colour in the festival, pays homage to love, passion and energy. 

The reason why I love Holi so much is in the freedom the festival brings. No matter who you are, what you believe in, or where you’re from, this is one celebration that embraces you in, quite literally, the most colourful way possible. Social restrictions and expectations are discarded, and plainly put, people just have fun. Aesthetically, the festival is stunning, but the harmony that some colour powder brings amidst strangers, friends and family is even better. Everyday we surround ourselves with lines – social, cultural, lines that divide us by our values and beliefs. A festival like this breaks those lines for a few moments by sheer, bold colour. And if you look closely, even between strangers you’ll see those lines fade away. 

hKUDOS Bloggers celebrating Holi! :)  L-R: Karen, Heey Jin, Niki, CoCo

hKUDOS Bloggers celebrating Holi! :)
L-R: Karen, Heey Jin, Niki, CoCo

In all honesty, I’ve ever only played Holi among Indians. Having grown up Singapore, of course a few local Chinese, Malay or expatriate Westerners would come for the experience and get into it. And as a kid, I always observed the laughter and looks of wonder on these “outsiders”. But I’d only go to people I was comfortable with and throw colour on them, so I guess this was the first year I ever properly played with people that weren’t my friends or family. So maybe in a way, I was an outsider this year too – but what I saw only reaffirmed my love for the celebration. There is something about the festival that simple brings people together.

So, if you were there on Saturday, if you’ve played Holi before, do this: think back to when you’ve played previously and bring yourself back to when you were playing; stop for a second, and take a look at what’s happening around you. You’ll remember people laughing, screaming, and running around in a giddy happiness that resembles a kind of liberation you’ll rarely see on any other day of the year. And if you ever end up playing Holi sometime in the future, take a step back and look around – I promise you’ll see a moment of what I just described right in front of you.

Holi Mubarak – Happy Holi, everyone. :)

IMG_9548On that note, that was my inside perspective on the festival. My fellow blogger Heey Jin came on Saturday along with two other hKUDOS bloggers, Karen and CoCo to experience the fun. Click HERE to check out her article, and read about her unique experience, and take on the celebrations!

 Important Links:
HKU’s South Asian Society
HKU’s Student Cultural Exchange Network – SCENe