Holi – The Colorful Indian Holiday

Agra, the Holi festival, Uttar Pradesh, India – Woke up at 5 a.m. this morning due to the Holi festival music that has been playing at a deafening volume all night long. I got up at 7:30, put on my white shirt I had made for today’s Holi festival and headed out to check out the Taj by morning sunlight.

The Holi festival is a festival held honoring the end of winter and everyone gets into it from about 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. everyone runs around splashing brightly colored paints all over everything and everyone and this blonde sahib wearing an unblemished white shirt is the best target around. I left Rich sleeping and headed down the stairs to go to the to the Taj but the doors to the hotel were locked. The hotelier said I should not go outside and when I questioned him, he said, he could not be responsible for anything that happens to me if I left the hotel before 2 o’ clock. I told him it was okay and at that I was let out of side door of the hotel on to the street. The doors to the hotel would stay locked until the festival was over.

I walked down to the Taj but because it was so early, people were not celebrating quite yet. The Taj Mahal looked like an entirely different building in the morning sunshine, still as amazing and powerful as ever. I stayed there admiring the beauty of the building for an hour or so before heading back to the hotel to see if Rich was awake and Rich had just gotten up and I gave him the report that the kids outside were armed with spray guns, water bottles, and water balloons, full of paint already. At that we left all passports etc. behind and headed downstairs for a quick breakfast before joining the chaos downstairs.

While we were getting ready, one of the guys who worked here in the hotel with a face painted bright purple already started talking to us and we he found that we wanted to go and join the Holi celebration, he took us back into our bathroom and doused us with a bottle of bright purple paint he already mixed. Cool. We were now marked as participants, so everyone could now attack us with paint now that they knew we wanted to play. We left the hotel at 9 a.m. with a Sardar and he let us with the back streets towards his house. These back streets were places we would not have seen without our friend, true local culture and the real Holi celebration. The entire city was celebrating. Most people with various shades of purple, some people would throw colors on you while others squirted us with water pistols filled with paint.

What most people did though was take up pinch of colored paint powder out of their pocket and rub it on your forehead followed by three to four hugs, one on each side like a European kiss. This process also ensured any wet paint you had on yourself was smeared on the chest of the person you were hugging. Dhanyawad and a hand shake and then we would move on. I cannot tell you how many people put bright paint on my forehead but once again we were a showpiece. Other times, we would walk into a small crowd of people and an entire bucket of paint would be poured on the whole lot of us. All of these things going on amid music played all over the city over huge loudspeakers.

We arrived at Sardar’s house where we sat and met his friends and family. We had to stand in the courtyard, so his mother could douse the three of us with blue paint from her porch up on the roof. We sat around and sardar brought a bottle of whisky out which only went around the small circle of people once. They were drinking the stuff like water. After a small snack, we moved outside his house and met some neighbors, then another bottle of whisky appeared. This one went down faster than the last one.

While we were sitting, children and even super old ladies in their sarees came up to us and put paint on our foreheads. We started walking through the narrow streets again and there was paint everywhere. The gutters were all colored purple from the sheer amount of paint coating all the streets and all in them. We came across a group of people dancing, so we had our obligatory dance where the locals got so excited, we were dancing. They started clapping and dancing around us. After the dance, every single person wanted to give us the requisite three hugs but Sardar warded them off of us via his native tongue. It was definitely a good idea having someone who spoke Hindi with us. He went to another friend of Sardar’s house but this gathering looked more formal. It was held in the house’s courtyard and there were many elderly gentleman putting dry paint on each other’s forehead. We were brought in, sat down, and after the paint on the forehead, a tray of cigarettes and bidis were passed around. Chai and snacks offered and politely declined. It was wild.

We left the formal party and went splashing colors on people and danced in the streets. Some people would take the paint powder, mix it with a little water in their hands, then run up to smearing their color of choice all over your face. The tricky players in Holi seem to be the wives, all dressed up in their sarees standing on the balconies over the street. They would stand there poised with a basket of paint, throwing it down on the people below. The only thing is you could not get them back due to their strategic position. After another hour of walking, visiting Sardar’s friends and dancing in the streets, Rich and I were getting really tired, so we left sardar and head it back to the hotel, covered head to foot in assorted colors.

When we arrived back at the hotel around 11:30 and when we went to the roof, the other travelers in the hotel were pretty surprised we had gone out and braved the festival. Most of them just sat on the roof, being spectators. We also found out that no one went and saw the festival we had seen. The ones who did go out, did it without a local as a guide, so they did not get as much out of it.

The clock struck two and poof just like Cinderella’s spell Holi ended. The streets calmed down and people went home to rest. I showered shortly after a return and when I was done, I no longer had purple hair and blue face. The color had been evenly spread all over the floors and walls of our bathroom. Not all of the paint came off as there paints are not totally water soluble but in time with multiple showers, I am sure it will all come off plus I have got a brightly colored button down courtesy of the Holi festival. We get the same festival again in Nepal on the 18th. Now we know we are in for.

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