Colors fly at Hindu Holi festival

On Friday, May 1, Wheaton students flocked to Chapel Field to celebrate the last day of classes and the Hindu spring festival of Holi, indulging in a rare opportunity to throw powdered dye and water at their friends. The revelers, many of them dressed in white, were soon doused with all the colors of a spring garden.

Sponsored by the campus Interfaith Alliance, the event marked Wheaton’s fourth annual celebration of Holi. Also called the Festival of Colors or Dhulheti, the day is observed by many Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. On the day before, bonfires are traditionally lit in remembrance of Prahlada, a character from the Puranic texts of Hinduism.

Celebrated mainly in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Suriname, Guyana, South Africa, Trinidad, the UK, Mauritius and Fiji, Holi takes place on the last full moon day of the lunar month of Phalguna. In its native countries, this event usually takes place in late February or March.

“It’s the traditional Hindu spring festival, properly celebrated in March, which is entirely too cold in New England for the flinging of water and dye,” said Vareene Parnell, associate dean of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility (SSSR), “Still, it might be really fun to try it with snow some time!”

Wheaton’s celebration of Holi was started by Hindu student Shanita Gopie ’07 and was organized this year by Rekha Aidasana ’10 and Jacquelyn Phillips ’09, co-presidents of the Interfaith Alliance (IFA). Both Gopie and Phillips drew inspiration for Wheaton’s Holi celebration from their junior semester abroad in India. The IFA students have incorporated a new twist into the color-throwing festival.

“In Hinduism, the throwing of the colors represents the colors of spring and the tossing away of any negative feelings and thoughts that have accumulated over the winter,” Phillips said. “The IFA and SSSR also invite Holi participants to throw away their stereotypes and preconceptions about religion and spirituality and to learn more about different faith systems from the students, faculty and staff who practice them. What could be a better beginning to the season of renewal?”