Holi Mubarak ! ……………Aap ko bhi Holi Mubarak !!!
In the background, there is a crackling sound of burning wood and the beats of a drum, commonly known as dhol or dholak. Joy is all around in the environment. But, before this grand finale, preparations usually start a month ahead. Holi is a big community event in Rajasthan, especially in one of the neighborhoods of Udaipur, where I grew up. It is considered as important as Diwali and is certainly very eventful.
Holi celebration starts with Muhurat for Danda Ropna - starting to build the Holi pyre (literal meaning installing central log for Holi). Every year we looked for the biggest center log / Danda. The bigger the Danda, the greater the Holi fire. Gathering fire wood was a team effort and there were ten to twelve neighborhood kids involved in this activity. Once we found a big & heavy log, it took us about 2 hrs to bring it back.
While the kids were involved in outdoor activities, the moms in the community used to get together and prepare special dishes for "Dhulendi”, the color playing day. Mouth watering goodies like Gujiya, Sev, Khurmas, Karela papdi chat, Chiwda, Dahi wadas, Barfis etc., were prepared by the ladies. Cooking was a fun activity as the ladies chatted and shared tips & tricks.
As days passed, every child in the neighborhood developed scratches on legs or arms while collecting the firewood but our effort never stopped. Since we were in Rajasthan, it was easy to find dry kejadi bushes around the area. We used to call it "kante ikkhatte karne chalo"- meaning collecting thorns. Maids who worked in our houses used to bring "kandde" (cow-dung cakes) as their contribution to our Holi. In honor of Holika, the mythological character associated with Holi, some ladies use to buy ornaments made out of "gober” - Cow dung”. Their belief was “It is good for your brother's life!!!”
On the day of Holi, Holika was decorated. The activity started with kids putting gulal on their foreheads. A big earthen pot was painted with Holika's face. The tallest kid in the community was assigned the job of installing the earthen pot-face at the top of the central log “Danda”. Next, the body of Holika was assembled using the thorns collected by the kids. In the end, the cow dung ornaments were placed atop the body.
Holi is celebrated on Poornima - full moon day. Usually, it is in the month of March. A good muhurat (auspicious time) is chosen using a Panchang (Hindu calendar). Everybody would gather around the Holi pyre at the muhurat. Ladies would perform Holika Pooja and distribute "Prashad". It is believed that doing a Pradakshina (circumnavigation) around the Holi is a good thing for newborns. The oldest person in the community had the honor of lighting the fire. Green wheat was also roasted in the Holi fire. It was believed to be very auspicious and tasted great! So whenever I see green wheat by the side of the road, it always reminds me of Holi.
Drummers from nearby villages would play at the celebration and received monetary tips. Kida used to enjoy dancing to the rythm of drum beats. On some occasions we played "Gher" - a version of Dandia, originating in Mevad, Rajasthan. Instead of fancy dandias, Gher is played with sticks about 2 to 3 feet long, on the rhythm of drum beats. There used to be fierce competitions to judge whose Holika was biggest and would last the longest. Boys used to guard Holika. Adults used to ensure no untoward incidents happened as kids played around fire.
The day following Holi is called Dhulendi when the whole community was involved in playing with colors. The custom was to go around the neighborhood from door to door, getting the folks out and spraying them with colors. There would always be one or two people in the neighborhood who were hard to catch. It used to be fun trapping them and spraying color. Around 2:00 PM, the fun would started winding down and we would come back home for a much needed shower and lunch. This day use to be the first day of the season to take a cold water shower or bath. Later, boys from all the communities use to gather together and have fun by pouring buckets of water on passersby. The ladies and the girls would visit all the houses in the neighbourhood to wish holi mubarak. Men would stay home and offer snacks and sweets to the visitors.
Halloween, which is celebrated in the US during autumn, reminds me of Holi. Instead of the masks/costumes, we used to have colorful faces and wet color soaked cloths. And instead of chocolates and candies, home-made goodies were shared.
With the times things have changed. However, these old memories are the ones I cherish the most.