Article by Gabrielle Rente ‘20
Holi, also known as “the festival of colors,” is a Hindu holiday that marks the beginning of spring. The festival lasts for a day and a night, starting the evening on the last full moon of the Hindu Lunisolar calendar. This year, Holi began on Wednesday, March 20
“As a student from India, I take great pride in celebrating and sharing my culture,” senior and Mumbai resident Girija Ganeshan said.
Ganeshan, is a biology major with a double minor in chemistry and psychology. She is also the Intercultural Ambassador for international students who helped the Global Education Office (GEO) plan the festival celebration.
“The good thing was that this year we had the festival celebrated on the actual Holi day,” Ganeshan said. Because Maryland is known for its fickle weather, the GEO usually pushes the celebration to early April. “We tried to stick it this time because we weren’t sure how the weather would turn out.”
The celebration of Holi begins in the evening, when people gather for the Holika Dahan, a religious ritual in which a doll is burned in the fire as a symbol of triumph over evil. The ritual derives from the mythical story of when the Hindu god Vishnu defeated Holika by burning her in a fire and saving his devoted follower Prahlada.
To prepare for the bonfire, Ganeshan made the doll by hand and brewed Thandaai, an almond milk beverage mixed with spices, to share with fellow students.
“I think we had a good turnout. I wish the weather was more cooperative as it was a bit chilly out,” Ganeshan said.
The following day, due to rainy weather, the color festival could not take place outside where it was usually held on the campus greens.
Nevertheless, Ganeshan kept the spirit of Holi alive. With the help of a GEO staff member, Ganeshan hosted a table in Hodson Commons where students could come up and get color applied to their faces.
Before anyone came up to the table, she took the liberty of dabbing each color on her face. “That’s how excited I get for Holi,” she smiled.
At the table, students could walk up and get a nametag with their name written in Hindi. Then Ganeshan would apply several colors to their face and send them off with well wishes and a goodie bag filled with Indian snacks.
One challenge Ganeshan has faced in the past is incorporating the same high energy vibe as back home. In India, the streets are crowded with people throwing water balloons, aiming squirt guns filled with colored water, and tossing dyed powders on any passing stranger, drenching them in a rainbow of colors.
“Festivals in general are very crazy, I would say, in India. People get super excited, and there are a lot of people there of course. It gets difficult when you’re outside of the country trying to incorporate the same mood because people are not aware what the festival is about. When you’re trying to get into that playful mood, people can get intimidated.”
Since Ganeshan is graduating this May, she hopes another student will come along to continue the tradition.
“We used to have a very good number of Indian students. Most of them have graduated,” Ganeshan said. Just in case, she prepared a second doll for next year.
Even though her plans for celebration were rained upon this year, Ganeshan still enjoyed celebrating her favorite holiday with others.
“What’s nice about here is that people are welcoming of the culture,” she said. “Especially when I had the table for Holi, it was nice. I just had to ask, and people would stop by. They were curious and intrigued by what was going on. It was fun applying color to people’s cheeks. It felt really good.”