In the age of prevailing conflicts, confusions, emptiness, and meaninglessness, many leaders of all kinds and creeds-intellectuals, social scientists, physical scientists, theologians, and politicians have suddenly started preaching about the urgent need of harmony and love within this variegated world. The irony is that these words and concepts remain evasive and elusive to most of us. In the absence of real active participation (with mind, speech, and action) in the feast of harmony and love, the entire endeavor of leaders of all colors and creeds appears to be nothing more than a sonorous verbiage-an utter nominalism. Do we have an opportunity for such a feast of inviting harmony and unalloyed love? Yes we do! And that is what the Holi is all about.
The historical origin of Holi is still shrouded in mystery; however, many good indications place it in very remote times, all the way back when Bhagavan Krishna spent his miraculous and divine playful boyhood in Vrindavan, Braj-Bhoomi, India (more than 5000 years ago). Its current traditions and practices appear to have evolved from harmonizing of many dharmic, adhyatmic, social, and folk traditions.
The Holi celebration begins with a bonfire. The bonfire is started by collecting, from every house in the village, the accumulated trash, garbage, and waste. This clean-up act is the reminder of the necessity of cleaning all the physical, as well as mental, spaces where lots of polluting elements have grown out of our material nature, such as uncontrolled sensual desires, anger, delusion, hatred, violence, lust, and greed. People gather around the bonfire and make offerings that might include roasting ears of new, still green barley crops which are still in the fields (this act is a kind of Vedic Yagna), and sing and dance around the fire, with songs, including the chants written in local vernacular. After all, this is New Year’s Day; a day to welcome the most colorful, joyful spring season-the king of all seasons. This is the Holika-Dahan.
In the Braj-Bhoomi, Holi playing is a battle of divine love. Young wives of the village are ready to attack the best men of the village with their sticks. It is time for colors; the wet and dry, all kinds. Everyone has been transfigured; no one is recognizable; the whole Braj-Bhoomi appears to be in great social turmoil, chaos, craziness, and good humor–yet everyone is in a state of great joy. The erotic mood is in full swing, yet within the expanded bounds of ethical and moral norms. People are impersonating Shri Radha and Krishna; the roles have been reversed; the genders gone astray. This continues for a day or two, and then purification and restructuring starts by washing, cleaning up, and donning new clothes.
This is a new beginning. Everyone greets one another with a new promise of cooperation, support, and love for the rest of the year. Radha-Krishna Bhajans (devotional songs) go on with joyful celebrations, with intense divine passion and love (Bhakti Yoga), after all, the Holi of Krishna is no mere intellectual exercise; no mere theory of love, no mere academic play: rather it is Divine Lila that each one of us must actively participate in and play our respective sva-dharmic roles with great passion and joy.
The richness, variety, and beauty of Holi Colors are the metaphors for the colors and the moods of five basic elements of Prakriti (material Nature), the changing world, seasons, and mind-an aspect of Divine Shakti Maya. The new beginning, the adhyatmic renewal for a better future for all must start by smearing out and covering up all worldly, social and physical and mental distinctions and categories. The Holi celebration tends to transcend all the established differences and diversity of varna, caste, color, sex, age, wealth, power, and attitudes. The social destruction and renewal, world pollution and purification, smearing out the diversity to re-enact harmony and unity occur, not only on intellectual planes but it is played out physically and mentally by each and everyone with great joy. After all, it is Holi of Radha- Krishna-the feast of multidimensional harmony and divine love.
Prof. Shive K. Chaturvedi, Los Angeles, California, USA