Light, love and laughter: Holi through the eyes of the 5C South Asian diaspora

People throw colored powder in the air.
This year, Holi took place during the week of spring break for the Claremont Colleges, leading many Claremont students to celebrate at home or with friends. (Courtesy: Steven Gerner/Flickr)

The sound of laughter fills the air. Brightly colored powder is thrown with abandon, decorating the clothes and faces of all those that are celebrating. The arrival of spring is heralded with the raucous sounds of joy and love, as Holi brings together a wide array of community. 

Color, water, love and joy are some of the hallmarks of the festival of Holi, otherwise known as the Festival of Colors. Holi is celebrated in the 12th month of Phalguna in the Hindu calendar, which usually corresponds with February or March in the Gregorian calendar. This year it fell on March 18, and many around the world took to the streets to celebrate — including Claremont community members.

Holi marks the arrival of spring and is celebrated in hopes of a good harvest. It also represents the eventual victory of good over evil, as the festival is linked to the defeat of the demon Hiranyakashipu. For many Hindus and non-Hindus alike, Holi is also a day to spend time with loved ones, to celebrate and spread love and happiness within the community.

Due to the timing of Holi this year during spring break, the opportunity to celebrate the festival as a collective 5C community was limited. Instead, celebrations were mostly held at people’s homes or between groups of friends. 

Anika Gupta PO ’24 explained how she personally celebrates Holi, which has many diverse iterations across the Indian subcontinent and the South Asian diaspora. 

“First we would probably do a little prayer to celebrate the harvest season and to create an auspicious start for the season ahead,” she said. “Then we all celebrate with a bunch of water and colored powder (Pakka color).” 

To be in a Holi celebration is to surrender yourself to being completely covered in rich reds, greens, blues and yellows (and to be washing these off your clothes for at least a week). These vibrant colors are used to pay tribute to the bright colors that mark the spring season. The colors also have specific meanings: green represents nature, happiness and new beginnings, while red symbolizes love and fertility. 

Holi celebrations often include large gatherings of friends, family and other community members. In this way, the festival serves as a time to reflect on the value that we place on community, and how we can affirm and celebrate those that we love. Traditional celebrations involve people spraying each other with brightly colored powders and liquids.

“In my building back home [in Mumbai, India], celebrating Holi is very fun,” Maya Singapuri PO ’24 said. “People of all ages, like the little kids and their grandparents, come together and wear white, and then we squirt colors on each other.”

As Holi is an enduring cultural cornerstone of parts of the South Asian community, some of its traditions have been updated for modern times, such as the colored powders used in celebrations. 

“Lately, since the powders are often bad for your health, my mom and other people would come together and crush beetroot and other vegetables to make organic powders,” Singapuri said. 

The importance of Holi as a way to have fun and celebrate is clear, especially to those that are living away from home, like Singapuri. 

“It’s a way of having fun,” she said. “I always associated it with happiness and bonding with people and making friends. I think the coolest thing about Holi is that you can meet anyone in the Indian diaspora and you can connect with them based on things like Holi. It truly is a cultural celebration.”

For some, such as Anika Gupta PO ’24, being so far from home at times like Holi can be bittersweet.

“Spending Holi away from home was very jarring, especially for this festival, because it’s really focused on community, so being away was hard,” she said. “It was especially hard because of the timing of spring break, which meant that we couldn’t even celebrate it together at the 5Cs.”

But there are ways to feel connected to this piece of cultural heritage despite not being able to celebrate it in person. 

“Technology helps,” Gupta said. “We have WhatsApp and things like that, so I still felt like I was celebrating it with my family, even all the way in the US.”

Holi means a lot to much of the South Asian community, as it creates community, and celebrates the people close to us. For Gupta, Singapuri and many others, it’s a fun-filled, colorful reminder of what makes life worth living.

“Holi is a celebration of life,” Gupta said. “I think it’s the most meaningful festival to me because even though it’s a celebration of the harvest season and spring, it means so much more. All the color and all the celebration, and the fact that everyone of all ages celebrates together shows how much it emphasizes and creates the meaning of community. It’s a way to celebrate and cherish every moment, with all those you love.”

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