The Claremont Colleges Hindu Society hosted the festival of colors, Holi, at Pomona College’s Walker Beach March 8. Bollywood music blared through the speakers as festival-goers ate samosas, had waterfights and covered each other in colors made with cornstarch.
Holi is an Indian festival that marks the arrival of spring, representing the triumph of good over evil. Sneha Shrotri PO ’22, president of the society, explained how Holi is a religious and cultural festival that allows people to gather in celebration.
“It’s a day where there’s a lot of fun and positive energy, and we just share that through throwing colors on each other,” she said. “To me, Holi is a day of sun and freedom, and it represents a sort of beauty in the mess that is all of the colors combined onto you.”
Shrotri said many festival-goers were students from South Asia, while some were from the U.S. Holi originated on the Indian subcontinent and has spread to different parts of Asia and the Western world.
“I [was] really hoping that a lot of the first-years would come from across the 5Cs because Holi is one of those festivals that I, personally at least, really miss away from home on campus,” Shrotri said. “It’s just a day for all of us to get together and celebrate the culture that we share, respecting all religions or any other affiliation that we have.”
Shrotri said celebrating Holi at the 5Cs felt like being back home again, and was a great way to reconnect with her culture while attending school in the U.S.
“For most of the year, you try your best to fit into academic … environments, and when [you are] so far away from home, you kind of lose touch with the numerous festivals that go on back home, and you lose yourself in the rigor of college,” she said. “Especially considering current events [that could be suppressing culture], I think it’s a very important time to acknowledge that we are celebrating who we are and our culture and acknowledging our backgrounds.”
Preet Khowaja PO ’20 also felt a personal connection to the event. Khowaja is from Pakistan, identifies as Muslim, but was brought up in a Hindu and Muslim family.
“The event is important to me because it’s a celebration of the Hindu parts of my upbringing,” she said via message. She also expressed the importance of South Asian students on campus having spaces to celebrate their identity.
“It’s a space where I get to spend time with people from my community. [The event is one of] the culture-specific cherished memories I’ll have from college,” Khowaja said.
Ananya Sen PO ’22 also attended the event, because she grew up celebrating it and wanted a space to perform tradition alongside other Desi (Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi) students.
Sen said she typically has loved water balloon fights during Holi, but to conserve water and reduce plastic use, the organizers of the 5C Holi event decided against having water balloons.
“Instead, they had … water guns and small buckets of water … [which was] something that I expected would have taken away from the experience,” she said. “Yet, I really didn’t feel like I was missing out. Everyone’s energy and excitement more than made up for it.”
Ananya Saluja PO ’22 also expressed the joy of being able to celebrate Holi while in the U.S.
“In today’s world, with … political condition[s] as divided as [they are] in the subcontinent, to be here at Claremont and celebrate Holi with my friends, who hail from different countries, religions and backgrounds than me … we can come together in harmony regardless of our differences and prove that love finds a way,” she said via message.
There was also some political conversation surrounding Holi. A few days before the festival on March 5, students gathered outside of Frary Dining Hall to participate in the protest A Holi Against Hindutva, which is part of a national campaign led by the student coalition Students Against Hindutva.
The coalition originated at Yale University in December in response to two actions taken by the Indian government — the passing of the Citizen Amendment Bill and the creation of the National Register of Citizens.
“Both of [the acts] were deeply problematic … and … Islamophobic … render[ing] many [Indian] communities stateless,” Sahana Mehta SC ’20, an Asian American Resource Center intern and event organizer, said. “We decided to take part in this action … in solidarity with protesters on the front line,” Mehta said.
According to Mehta, a number of South Asian American students, Asian Pacific Islander students, students of color and a few other students attended the protest.
“We decided to have [the protest] during Holi because we wanted to use the mobilizing power [of the celebration] to bring attention to this deeply political and humanitarian issue,” Mehta said.
She expressed the importance for the U.S. to be applying pressure and showing solidarity with the Muslim Indian citizens affected by the new policies.
“That’s been our goal primarily,” she said. “We are also trying to recognize that Hindu fascism is sustained in large part by the diaspora and by conservative forces in the diaspora, so we’ve also been trying to directly challenge those.”