Holi Mahotsav Festival
|About this Item||Subjects||Festivals; India; Ethnic Affairs
||Speakers||Griffin The Hon Kayee
The Hon. KAYEE GRIFFIN [6.42 p.m.]: On Sunday I had the pleasure of representing the Premier at the Indian community's celebration of Holi, which, as the festival of colours and harmony, stands out as one of the most energetic and exciting festivals of India. Holi is the most colourful and vibrant of India's innumerable festivals. Held in the Indian spring on the day after the first full moon in March, Holi is meant to celebrate good harvests and the fertility of the land. It is seen as a symbolic commemoration of shedding inhibitions and caste differences by extending a hand of peace and throwing brightly coloured powder—called gula—and water over each other in celebration of harmony and friendship.
Sydney's version of the Holi festival was held in Tumbalong Park, Darling Harbour. It was hosted by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, the Institute for Indian Art and Culture, which I have spoke about here before. As one of the largest non-government organisations in the world, the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan actively promotes a better understanding of Indian culture in New South Wales. The Bhavan aims to use educational and cultural programs to continue the best of Indian traditions while at the same time meeting the needs of modernity and multiculturalism. For people unfamiliar with Indian culture, viewing the Holi festivities without any explanation might be confusing. However, after watching people enjoying the festival and attending the formal celebrations and speeches, I learnt a lot about the celebrations.
Holi began as a harvest festival—an ancient festival of the Aryans—that is mentioned in 4,500-year-old Sanskrit texts. These days Holi has different associations that vary from region to region. Several different legends relate to the celebration of Holi. The most popular among these legends comes from the north and is the story of the arrogant king who installed himself as a god-like figure. When his pious son Prahlad worshipped the Lord Vishnu instead, his father saw it as an act as defiance and tried to slay Prahlad, failing each time due to divine intervention. The King's sister, Holika, was ordered to kill Prahlad. Holika, who was said to be immune to burning, seated the boy on her lap in a fire. However, it was Holika who perished, despite her immunity to fire. It is believed she sought Prahlad's forgiveness before her death and that he honoured her by naming the day after her. Traditionally, in areas where this tale is believed, on the day before Holi, effigies of Holika and all things negative are burned. Wood and rubbish left over from the dark, cold days of winter are collected days in advance to light the bonfire.
Holi also marks the celebration of the barley harvest. I understand that divinations for the coming harvest are cast by interpreting the direction of the flames. In the south the popular story of the origins of Holi is woefully tragic. Legend says that Kamdev, the god of love, aimed an arrow at Lord Shiva. For this foolish prank he was burned to ashes. When his wife pleaded for his return, Lord Shiva restored him but not in human form. Hence in this part of India Holi is not such a cause for celebration, and songs of lamentation fill the air instead. In the north-west the tale is one of joy and romance. This association is based on India's most charming figure, Krishna, who is said to be an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu.
Krishna indulged in endless pranks—drenching women with water, breaking pots of butter and so on—that regularly angered the townspeople. But through his charm, wit and displays of divinity he invariably won their favour. Krishna is the quintessential youthful form with which youngsters identify: the spirit of fun and flirtation, banter and merriment. In his image, they celebrate Holi by dousing each other with coloured water and powder. The festival is also associated with the immortal love of Krishna and Radha. The young Krishna complained to his mother, Yashoda, that Radha was very fair yet he was very dark. Yashoda advised him to apply colour to Radha's face and see how her complexion changed. The Zholi tradition of festival goers throwing coloured powder and water over each other stems from this legend. The colour also symbolises vitality, and participants generally wear white to display the colours that are thrown.
Despite other religious connotations, I understand that for most of India the festival is less about spirituality and more about spontaneity. Holi is known as the great uniter. I understand that one of the reasons for this is that, unlike many festivals in India, where the richer people celebrate with more pomp and ceremony than the poor, Holi brings people together as equals. The festivities at Tumbalong Park included dances from northern Indian states, yoga, jazz and folk music, with a special area for the throwing of powder and water. It is a tribute to our culturally diverse community in New South Wales that we can participate in activities such as Holi. I was pleased to be a part of the Indian community's celebration of this very special day on their calendar.