A detailed history of Holi is actually somewhat difficult to ascertain and scholars disagree as to the exact religious significance and origins of the holiday. What is certain, is that Holi predates Christianity and has been celebrated across South Asia, particularly in Eastern India, throughout recorded history. The tradition of lighting bonfires and throwing colored powder has existed for hundreds of years and is a highlight of the Hindu calendar, marking the beginning of spring.
There are numerous religious legends as to the origins of this unique holiday but the dominant tale involves a classic plot of good overcoming evil. Holi derives its name from Holika, the sister of a demon king who essentially (and this is greatly simplifying the story FYI) was burned alive on a pyre to save her brother who had declared loyalty to Vishnu which, obviously, angered his demon father. Her sacrifice was honored by Vishnu who came and avenged her death by killing her demon father. The story of sacrifice and the ultimate triumph of good over evil are dominant religious themes of the festival.
Holi is actually not widely celebrated here in Dhaka. Most streets are conspicuously absent of messy revelers and, compared to our experience in Nepal last year, the city is relatively quiet. However, there are some wild parties in the Hindu-dominated Shankaria Bazar area of Old Dhaka. That’s where we went this morning.
On a normal day, Shankaria Bazar is the quintessential vortex of humanity that characterizes Old Dhaka. It is a fascinating area with craftsmen selling Hindu idols, paper kites and intricately woven fabrics. It’s a definite must-see destination for the few tourists who brave the winding, crowded labyrinths of Old Dhaka.
Today though, the workshops were shuttered, energetic Hindi music was blasting from tarpaulin-covered speakers and thousands of dancing revelers were crammed into the alleys armed with rainbows of powder, crude water guns and buckets of dyed water. Everyone is a target and we were no exception. After half an hour of frenzied, dye filled chaos, we retreated to a CNG and set out for home. The real adventure began when we attempted to wash up.
In Nepal last year, the dyes and powder required approximately ten minutes of vigorous scrubbing until we reached the stage of squeaky cleanliness. Dani and I have spent approximately an hour and a half each in the shower and our bodies and faces are still a riot of pastel colors. It is not for lack of innovation or Google searches.
Shampoos, hand soaps, conditioners, bar soaps, dish soaps, hand sanitizers, coconut oils, among other implements have all been tried on our bodies and faces. Danielle’s hair is still green. We believe it might be permanent. I look like I have two black eyes and my beard has taken on a distinctly beetle-shell purple hue.
We have a many showers and probably several days until our appearances return to normal…but it was well worth it. We have stories to tell, Danielle apparently always wanted green hair as a child and I have never tried a purple beard. It’s been a blast of a day.
Wish us luck as we try to clean ourselves up!