New Delhi: Green, magenta, red, yellow, purple — clouds of colored gulal, smiling faces smeared with them, joyful dancing and sweetmeats — that is how India on March 20 immersed itself in Holi, one of the Hindu festivals celebrated most widely by all — be it young or old, rich or poor, and irrespective of religion.
Heralding the coming of spring and marking the legend of triumph of good over evil, Holi saw people spill out onto the streets hurling colored powder and colored water — and even mud — at each other.
The neighborhoods of the capital erupted in celebrations in the morning. Elders hugged, smeared gulal on each other’s faces and exchanged sweets, especially the traditional gujiya, and drank thandai — a cooling drink made with dried fruits and milk.
Shouting “Holi hai,” children, armed with water guns or pitchkaris, did what they do best — played pranks by spraying colored water and hurling water-filled balloons on passers by from the safety of rooftops and balconies of their houses.
Families played Holi in their front lawns or gardens, splashing buckets of water on each other to whoops of joy, and screams from the unsuspecting victims as the cold water caught them unawares.
“I joined the celebrations in my colony. It was fun, we smeared gulal on each other,” said Akshay, a 14-year-old, in a south Delhi colony.
The festivities began on March 19 night. Bonfires were lit as Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi (little Holi) was celebrated a day before the festival. It invokes the legend of Prahlad, whose devotion to Lord Vishnu angered his father the demon king Hiranyakashipu. In the end, Prahlad survives while the king perishes.
Holi also showcases Indian traditions of communal harmony as Muslims, Christians and Sikhs play it in large numbers with their Hindu brethren.
In Lucknow, hundreds of Hindus and Muslims celebrated together by taking out the decades-old procession Holi Baraat — to send out a message of peace and brotherhood. Accompanied by decorated horse chariots, the revelers danced to the beats of drums amidst ecstatic shouts of Holi Hai.
“Holi Baraat is one of the oldest processions in the city. It’s just not a procession, but a festive mix of communities to spread the message of brotherhood,” Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma told reporters.
Vivek Tangri, a Lucknow resident said: “For 42 years we have celebrated Holi in this manner. You can say it has become a tradition. Muslims shower petals on us. In response, we garland them.”
In Mumbai, it was a colorful but subdued Holi due to ongoing school and college exams.
The exams dampened the Holi plans of many youngsters. To avoid disturbing the students, many housing complexes and societies refrained from playing loud music.
Film stars, celebrities, business personalities, politicians and others enjoyed the festival with gatherings at their homes in and around Mumbai.
However, on the political front, the fanfare was missing in Delhi. Politicians from Bihar like Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar also did not celebrate.
Authorities in the capital said no untoward incident was reported from anywhere in the capital till on March 20 evening as police had urged people to celebrate the festival with “sensitivity towards others.”
“Nothing happened so far. It is absolutely peaceful,” a Delhi Police spokesperson said. He added that barricades had been set up at many places to check trouble.
Traffic policemen were deployed in large numbers on Delhi’s roads to keep an eye on drunken driving.