Niet alle Hindoestanen zijn blij met de populariteit van hun feest. Ze zijn boos omdat de Nederlanders elementen van het hindoefeest overnemen, zonder te benoemen dat het feest uit India komt en dat Hindoestanen het hier al heel lang vieren.
Volgens journaliste Mahesvari Autar moet de hindoegemeenschap oppassen voor wij/zij-denken en aan zelfonderzoek doen. Want hoe authentiek is de holi-viering van de Hindoes zelf eigenlijk? Waarom wordt er vooral commerciële Bollywoodmuziek gedraaid? En hoe vrouwvriendelijk zijn die feesten? Bovendien is het helemaal niet zo vreemd dat niet-hindoes bepaalde gebruiken overnemen. Dat is integratie.
The Sanskrit scholar and poet Kalidasa (5th century CE, India) once rightly stated “Khulu Manushya Utsava Priyaha”, that people always like to celebrate festivals. Sanatan Dharma is enriched with age-old festivals and celebrations that add significant importance in the life of humans. Most social and religious festivals in India are deeply connected with the seasons and even places. Their main existing purpose is to cultivate traditions within communities, social groups and society at large. It gives people a reason to explore and experience the worldly life which is the common base of social enjoyment. But it also increases social economical growth and connecting with their inner being.
Most Hindu festivals are fixed on auspicious days of the Hindu calendar, which follows two sets of astronomical calculations simultaneously: solar and the lunar calendars. One of the most well known ancient Hindu festival which is celebrated in the west is Holi. People from the region Bihar know it as ‘Phaguwa’ and in the region West Bengal it’s called ‘Dol Purnima’. It’s celebrated on the first day of Chaitra at the end of the winter season, marking it the beginning of the spring season on the last full moon day of the month Phalgun (February/March). Around this period nature blossoms with breathtaking colors, defining Holi as ‘the festival of colors’.
Holi: on a personal note
Intrigued by recent events regarding the interpretation and celebration of the Holi festival in The Netherlands I longed and searched for answers. In today’s time Hindu’s in the western world cling to cultural values, traditions and rites. Especially the Sarnami-Hindustani community firmly holds on to traditions, which have travelled and survived ages and places. Ancestors from this community belong to region Uttar Pradesh/Bihar in India. In the past two hundred years their main link to India has been Hinduism, but in today’s time the Indian entertainment industry i.e. Bollywood is their strongest connection with India. The most important surviving scriptural knowledge is the retelling of Valmiki’s Ramayana written by Tulsidas better known as the Ramcharitramanas. And the two popular cultural festivals with a strong religious undertone are Holi and Divali. Migrating to the Netherlands in the late 60’s and 70’s the Sarnami-Hindustani community continued to celebrate the festival of colors and the festival of lights in the public domain.
I got inspired to search for some answers, which are shaped by my own thoughts, feelings and knowledge about Hindu-philosophy. My search begins with quoting one of my favorite authors, mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik.
Within infinite myths lies the eternal truth
Who sees it all?
Varuna has but a thousands eyes
Indra a hundred
And I, only two.
On the one hand Holi is seen as a religious festival for Hindus, based on real events that occurred in ancient India. It’s tells the story of a child Prahlad devoted towards God Vishnu, the preserver of the universe. Vishnu along with Brahma (creator) and Shiva (transformation/destroyer) are called the holy Trinity. Vishnu upholds dharma, righteousness each and every time when it’s threatened on a planetary scale. He then leaves his celestial world Vaikunth and comes down to earth as an avatar incarnation to maintain order. To help mankind and save his devotee, Vishnu comes in his fourth avatar as ‘Narasimha’. A form of a man-lion, who is able to overpower of evil mortal Hiranyakasyapa; the father of his devotee Prahlad. Hiranyakasyapa thought that he could escape death and rule this world because he was granted a special boon by Lord Brahma. Prahlads aunty Holika tried to burn her nephew alive, but in stead of killing him, she herself got caught by flames and died. To celebrate the triumph of good over evil people gather on the fortnight of Holi. They make a mountain of hay and lit a fire, this tradition is named ‘Holika Dahan’, the burning of evil. Thus Holi got it’s name due to this event.
An other tale, which is hardly known by the Sarnami-Hindustani community is that Holi is also linked with the death and resurrection of the God of love ‘Kamadeva’, which is associated with the spring season where nature survives by procreation; Holi is also the celebration of life itself.
On the other hand, over time the deeper meaning for celebrating Holi has changed. I believe that it started -driven by commerce- with Bollywood-films. In films the framework of the festival has changed gradually, framing it significantly as a cultural festival, rather than a religious festival to make it more appealing for a larger audience group. Popular Holi-songs became a prominent aspect of modern Holi celebration; they beautifully expose the interpretation of the color festival through the lyrics of songs. An old popular Holi-song is sang by famous actor ‘Amitabh Bachchan’ in 2003 in the film Baghban. This song is being played for years now by local Hindustani radio stations when the season of Holi arrives.
“Yeah holi khele raghuveeraa avadh mein holi khele raghuveeraa
Arey holi khele raghuveeraa avadh mein holi khele raghuveeraa”
In this song he refers to Lord Rama who plays Holi in his beloved kingdom Ayodhya. Pretty innocent right? But then years later, in 2013 Jazzy B and Bappi Lahri sang ‘The Holi War- Holiya Mein Ude Re Gulaal’ written by Kumaar. And this song has left me in shock as I wonder what the musicians were thinking by composing and singing this song.
“Mhaari re ye mangetar, Don’t you know I love you baby! Mahre dil ki taker
Took my heart, you make me crazy, Aankhe teri Hitler, They make me go naugty naughty, Chal gayi mere dil pe, Lets enjoy the super party. Let me color you ki aaja nikal ghar se, Ho kahiyo re mangetar se haan, Holiya main udde re gulaal, Ho kahiyo re mangetar se…“
Living in Holland I don’t hear any kind of protest or observe debates within the Sarnami-Hindustani community regarding these vulgar (overly sexualized) Holi-songs. I just wonder why? Is this not a matter of concern for the Hindu community, that Bollywood is commercializing the Holi festival? Or that the biggest sponsor of Holi celebrations in Surinam is the brand Parbo-Beer. And why don’t they get upset when fellow Hindus organize Holi parties, which take place during weekends, why don’t all Hindus play Holi on the exact same day and time, according to the Hindu calendar?
The reason for me to write this piece has to do with the outrage and even hostility against so called “white” organizations who also celebrate a form of ‘Holi’, calling it the ‘color festival’ or ‘color run’ or just Holi. I firmly believe that this “outrage” is a form of racism and an act to divide groups by the color of their skin and cultural background.
A significant difference between the Sarnami-Hindustani community and the Dutch who adopted bits and pieces of the Holi festival is the time of celebration. The Sarnami-Hindustani Hindus celebrate according to astronomical calculations, which is believed to be auspicious, while the Dutch select a date of own preference. They check the weather forecast while planning their party, is this the reason to cause turmoil? Then let me tell you this, important Hindu sacraments; vivaah-sanskaar (Hindu wedding ceremony ) and mundan-sanskaar (Hindu ceremony in which a baby’s first hair after birth are saved) hardly happen according to astrological calculations. People celebrate these two very important sanskara’s almost always during the weekend, because it’s just practical. We can’t expect family members and friends to be free during week days right? Then how come that Dutch organizations are being negatively targeted for being practical when they want to play Holi during summer? In Holland the biggest outdoor festivals take place in July and August when it’s warm.
Why is this very small group protesting against Dutch people celebrating their own Holi party? Are they perhaps afraid that the Dutch use their knowledge of marketing, fundings and promotion to gain larger groups of participants. While Hindus who celebrate Holi in public hardly get mainstream media attention or even a large group of audience with other cultural backgrounds?
I learned that Holi has always been a festival for each and every soul. It’s the celebration of unity within diversity. How is it even possible that a person gets insulted if an “anther” group is celebrating this social festival in their own way and in their own time? Just try to grasp this thought for a moment and read this light hearted quote from Lilly Singh aka Superwoman. She rapped this text in the song ‘Dhaai Aakhar Naam’ composed and produced by world music group Maatibaani.
How many worlds we in? ONE
How many loves we got? ONE
Twenty one questions and the answer is always ONE LOVE!
And to which God do you pray?
And how many times a day?
I’ll hear you out but either way
I’ll love you the same way
Coz skin colour, dismiss that
Equality, don’t diss that
Let me be clear now; Holi is not for one person, Nor a community. Nor for a specific social group within the Hindu tradition. This festival belongs to everyone of us, it can’t be claimed. Skin color, social background, young or old, male or female and to whatever faith a person belongs, it doesn’t matter. Because Holi’s main ideology is praising ‘equality’ and ‘respecting diversity’.
In fact Hindus should be so proud that this festival which they see as holy and important is becoming part of this modern western world. And frankly speaking -in general- we should appreciate people more who bring the eternal wisdom and seer beauty of Hindu philosophy along with their traditions to the West.
So what if cultural traditions change according to time, place and circumstances? So what if devotional songs are replaced by house music. And so what if people in the Netherlands prefer beer above bhang drink (an ancient drink made from the ingredients of marijuana, spices and creamed milk). This festival doesn’t teach us to spread anger, negativity and apartheid, it teaches us to love and respect others. One should first see what’s happening within the Hindu community first and how we celebrate our festivals, before pointing fingers towards innocent people who just want to play with colors and have fun.
Last note for my fellow Hindu’s. According to Sanatan Dharma nothing is permanent, over time the Hindu religion has changed it forms according to different time periods, that’s the only way it survived and became the oldest living religion of this planet. Santana dharma tells us that there are various world views to believe or not to believe in the omnipresent. This is the reason why Hinduism has no founder, has more than one holy book and has numerous holy places and pilgrimages, not just in India, but across the globe. Hinduism has a sacred hymn for unity: Vasudeiva Kutumbakam ‘the whole world is one single family’. May we all respect this wonderful message of love and unity and do me one favour lets play Holi Holland!
In 2013 bezocht Nieuwwij het kleurrijke holi-feest in Rotterdam
Lees ook op Nieuwwij Holi Shit!
Festival of biodiversity, 13 celebrations in 12 months by Kusum Misra Panigrahi
The Principal Upanisads by S. Radhakrishnan
The Pillars of Hindu Religion by Naresh Bhatt
Myth = Mithya by Devdutt Pattainaik