Almost all societies have carnival like festivals such as Holi, which involve celebrating on the streets and other community spaces. The purposes are many, rooted in social and religious narratives. At their heart is lowering of social barriers and the inhibitions that otherwise determine everyday behaviour. Through similar practices as music and dance, the objective is to draw out the essence of joy that inhabits every being but is covered up by many layers of responsibility, anxiety, physical and mental suffering. It recalls every society’s happier, more prosperous times. People lose their individuality in the mass, but discover their selves at the same time.
Much of ancient India’s life was in the villages and forests that provided abundance – nature’s bounty was not exhausted as it is today. The seasons defined behaviour and complex systems were developed in the social fabric to make the most of what nature provided. Holi has survived the many transitions that occurred in Indian history and, despite many coarse practices – natural for any hedonistic celebration – has informed and produced high culture, philosophy and aesthetics. It has retained its form and tradition, but also evolved in many ways. Be it the spiritual narrative of Krishna playing Holi with Radha and the Gopis, or that which has become an essential context in Bollywood’s expression of various ‘rasas’, there is an essential understanding of joy.
Even in the inhibited and more quartered environment of modern urban life, Holi has found further expression. It has its particular form in every region, with greater emphasis on one or the other aspect. It has inspired folk culture to a huge extent, which is considerably threatened today by the Bollywood template. Thankfully, efforts are underway everywhere to preserve the old traditions. Even so, these folk forms will become less folksy and more sophisticated, as society has, itself, become transformed. The emerging ‘folk’ versions can be seen, meanwhile, in the brash new ‘prosperity’ of Haryanavi song and dance that utters ‘Holi’ and ‘Lamborghini’ in the same breath. Holi has also been carried to distance shores by the Diaspora and evokes nostalgia for a less harried way of life, a deeper understanding than just career advancement. It is the love of the mortal for the divine expressed in celebration of the passing moment, briefly uncaring of what lies ahead. So, have a ‘bindaas’ Holi.