Holi: Not Hindu, but Hindustani

Holi: Not Hindu, but Hindustani

By Chaitali Verma     

The colours are ready, the pichkaris are out, the gujias are done, the winter chills take a backseat welcoming the summer breeze, Holi is arriving. 

Amongst all the political unrest and chaos, the pandemic, the burden of exams, the mid-semester break downs of college students, it steps in like a much-awaited respite, almost seeming as though showers of rain to our drought-prone souls currently, bringing in splashes of colour to the rather grey year that it has been up till now. Holi for me comes with hope. 

The hope that water pistols will replace weapons, colours will replace blood, festivities will replace violence and love will replace hate. It comes with the hope that Delhi will come alive, even if just for a day, with joy and laughter of togetherness.

Because Holi may be a Hindu festival by the book, but it is an Indian tradition by heart. I know that I adopt an over-optimistic approach as I write this, but even for someone sitting down in a protest, this festival, I hope, offers them a small slice of happiness. Because you see, that is the power of festivals in India. They perform an essential role in building unity like no other. Because unlike other festivals like Diwali or Dussehra, it is beyond worshipping a particular deity and grand pujas or rituals, it’s simply a day for celebration, for fun. 

It’s a festive yet humble day. Unlike Diwali, there are no decorations, no dressing up, rather you scrounge for the most ragged clothes you can get your hands on, putting them on proudly for the day that is to unfold. It’s a time to let your guard down, to welcome the year that is to come, to hope that you can take some of the colours and sprinkle it over a new time. 

But what makes holi truly colourful is the equal enthusiasm with which people of so many different religions in India celebrate it. It’s truly a rainbow of people that come together, especially on the streets where no one is left untouched from the attack of pichkaris or at least a little dash of gulaal. 

This day doesn’t differentiate, it rather unites, all us immensely diverse people, drenched in similar colours, struggling to break free from friends executing another colour attack, trying to get the gulaal out of our eyes and regretting not oiling our face as warned by our mothers after the colour refuses to leave our skin, successfully making us pink-faced for days to come. 

Holi has a Muslim history as well. According to an Urdu Daily of 1844, Bahadur Shah Zaffar had special arrangements made during Holi whereas Jahangir has been shown playing Holi with his wife Noor Jahan. Even Urdu poetry places a certain unique significance on this festival, some of the greatest works relating to holi being compiled in this language.

The magic of Holi couldn’t even be resisted by Sufi saints and poets. There is a tale that tells us about how one day Amir Khusru saw some Hindu Women singing and carrying mustard flowers to their deity on Basant Panchami. On the other hand, Mehboob-e-Ilahi Khwaja Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya was dejected due to the recent death of his nephew. So, to cheer up his master, Khusru dressed up as a woman in yellow clothes and started singing and dancing in front of his pir, thus bringing a smile upon Auliya’s face. It is said that since then Chistis also started to celebrate the festival of Basant. Nizamuddin Auliya also asked the Chisti Sufis to celebrate the spring festival of Holi, embodying all the joys that it brought with it. 

Simply put, holi goes beyond religion, it is not limited to Hinduism, it is a celebration of good over evil, of colour over darkness. Rang Panchmi in Maharashtra, Shigmo in Goa, Hola Mohalla in Punjab, Dol Jatra in Bengal, Manjul Koli in Kerala, Phaguwa in Bihar and Yaosang in Manipur, it is a myriad of colours celebrated each in their unique ways, yet remaining the same at its core. 

There is a beautiful song called Kaafi that is attributed to Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah. Translated in English by Maaz Bin Bilaal, it goes like this: 

I will play Holi beginning in the name of the Lord,

saying bismillah.

Cast like a gem in the name of the prophet,

Each drop falls with the beat of Al-lah, Al-lah,

Only he may play with these colourful dyes,

Who has learnt to lose himself in Allah.

“Am I not your Lord?” asked the Lover,

And all maids lifted their veils,

“Everyone said, yes!” and repeated:

“There is only one God.”

I will play Holi beginning in the name of the Lord,

saying bismillah.   

Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *