A festival of colors comes to IU Kokomo

Written on 03/27/2024
Patrick Munsey

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Laughter and squeals echoed off the walls of the building at Indiana University Kokomo on March 25 while multicolored clouds floated around the college’s iconic wellhouse. Students and teachers alike were celebrating Holi, a Hindu festival that is quickly gaining in popularity across the U.S.

The students tossed handfuls of colored dust at each other while dancing to music and enjoying each other’s company. The teachers joined in the fun as well, and within minutes the white shirts worn by the participants were rainbow-colored, as were their faces, hair, hands … color was everywhere.

Holi, the festival of colors, is an event that has its roots in the Hindu religion but has become secularized over time, much like Christmas and Easter. As Lalatendu Acharya, IU Kokomo assistant professor of health sciences, explained, Holi is something more today.

“It's not about a Hindu festival anymore, but rather it's a common festival where people have fun,” said Acharya, who explained that Holi originally was celebrated in northern India, so many Indians didn’t include the holiday among their holidays.

“The common theme around all over India today is celebrating love, the triumph of good over evil, and a good harvest,” said Acharya. “It's basically a festival of diversity and inclusion, where foreigners and outside people from different religions can participate. And an important thing, except in some places in India where caste is a huge issue in rural areas, everybody plays with each other, you will cross the caste barriers there.”

Castes, or classes, have been recognized in India for more than two millennia. The country is trying to separate itself from the practice of categorizing people by the communities into which they are born, yet people from lower castes face discrimination and denial of opportunities. Holi, Acharya said, transcends those social boundaries, and he explained the typical Holi experience.

“During the festival, everybody comes out together,” said Acharya. “That's one way you can meet the person you like without other people frowning on you. The entire thing is a holiday, and everybody goes out to play Holi.

“You get all covered with color. You get tired because it's very hot at this point in time in India. So, you take a bath and then come back to the celebration with your friends for a feast. Then, you all get together and eat and maybe watch a movie, you know, like us.”

Similar to Easter, the exact date of Holi varies. However, Holi is tied to the phases of the moon as the seasons change. This year, Holi coincided with a lunar eclipse on March 25, the first such occurrence in a century.

A group of students made a presentation about the holiday before the colors flew, and Acharya answered questions along with J.R. Pico, teaching professor in Spanish and humanities. Pico organized the celebration for his class after visiting India and being inspired by the culture.

“When I went to India, I saw so much pride, so much faith they had,” said Pico. “We debate in our class about traditions that could last or could disappear. It seems like Holi will be increasing."