Holi: Color Me What?20 March 2011
I have taken some time off to be Mr. Mom while my wife is on a work assignment in India. In preparing to make the move to Bangalore, I was excited about being in the land of MS Subbulakhsmi (renowned Carnatic vocalist) and Kalmane (locally grown 100% Arabica beans) coffee. Being here for about three weeks, this is what I have discovered: people are nicer than the North, infrastructure is horrible, and there is not much to see in the city. Even Frommers.com couldn’t come up a list of not-to-be-missed attractions in Bangalore, though people in India claim it to be a great city. I guess the new IT opulence has brought in pubs and gigs only (it is common for Indians to end almost every sentence with ‘only’).
Yesterday, I picked up my son Jodha Singh from the pre-school he is enrolled in here. His teacher said, he wouldn’t play Holi (“Festival of Colors”—though bastardized; some “celebrants” today throw sewerage on people as well!). Now, the legend of Holika is vanishing and so too the spirit of post harvesting thanksgiving prayer to the Almighty. Apparently, Jodha was upset when other children were throwing water and colors on him. I told Miss Priya that his aversion may have come because he has not partaken in this festival as the Sikhs of Panjab have a little reason to celebrate. She wasn’t sure how to respond; do most Panjabis and Sikhs know how to “play Holi?” Guru Arjan Sahib references Holi in the Basant rag within Guru Granth Sahib: "I play Holi / Joining the Infinite Wisdom's companions / Serving the Inspired / Imbued with deep crimson of the Divine Love." By the way, those raising the issues of historical dates and use of the Nanakshahi calendar need to take notice that the Guru references Holi in Phagun (a month prior to today). The Guru is all about permanent colors, not temporary phenomenon!
Whether or not you like Babbu Mann’s film Ekam “Son of the Soil,” kudus to him for the Holi song. He elaborates on the plight of the Panjabi farmers who have no reason to celebrate the festival of colors: “Asi kache rang jahe, sohnie, sadi kahdi holi.” He warns of violence as the last resort of the farmer staring down the realities of current Indian policies and practices towards Panjabi farmers; to borrow a phrase from old-school political rap of Public Enemy, “My Uzi weighs a ton” (not to be taken just literally, but also the influence). Panjabi Sikhs have shown that warning to be well-heeded in the last five centuries. In the academic sphere, Joyce Pettigrew cites agro-economic reasons behind 1984 and this is the other side of the coin which Inderjit Singh Jaijee has been addressing with investigations into farmers’ suicides according to Mallika Kaur.
Hola Mahalla at Sri Anandpur Sahib used to invoke the collective Carhdi Kala (Spirit Ascendant) while strengthening spirituality internally and preparing to deliver justice externally. Are we going to train ourselves, or just participate in rote rituals of simran (remembrance) and displays of shastars (weapons)? How are we strengthening the Sikhs today?
A Sikh of the Tenth Nanak was inspired to play Holi for he had developed a strong relationship with the Guru. Bhai Nand Lal “Goya” records: “Holi has made lips beautiful like a flower bud. Rose water, amber, musk and saffron water fell like rain on all sides. The scattering of gulal by the Guru turned everything red. The pistons filled with saffron-colored water imparted a lovely tinge to the uncolored. When my King put on the colored neck cloth, both the worlds became happy through his kindness.” Do the Sikhs today feel even a glimpse of this?
Guru Nanak Sahib in Asa-ki-Var shares that rang (literally “color,” but more like “Love”) causes laughter, tears and silence. I do not worry about what others think except the Force. The question remains are you ready to dip into the rang—to be colored in deep crimson and take on what this Divine Love is propelling you toward?
Harinder Singh is the co-founder and Chief Programming Officer of the Sikh Research Institute. He assisted in developing and reviewing the Sojhi curriculum published by SikhRI. He is an interdisciplinary researcher and a global orator. His passion is to learn and share the Sikh culture.