Observance of Holi this month will bring some color to the town
By Sean Sullivan
A central feature of the festival is the colors that are cast about with abandon. The pigments are powdered, and so adhere to skin and clothing, creating a moveable feast for the eyes. Known also as the “festival of colors,” the Hindu tradition celebrates the arrival of spring, and has been observed in India since about the 4th century.
Swati Dave (pronounced dah-vee) works with the Natick Cultural Center District (NCCD), serving as director on its board. She is a Natick resident, who grew up participating in the rituals of Holi (pronounced holy) in the land where the tradition originated. Dave lived in the west-central city of Mumbai before moving to the U.S. in 2005, and brings that cultural context to Natick’s Holi celebrations.
“There are a couple of stories around Holi,” said Dave. India’s ancient history and rich religious tradition have produced legends that have lasted centuries. And the narrative color of some of those stories is reflected in the hues and rituals of Holi.
“It’s a pretty, pretty old tradition,” she said.
The event will be held on Saturday afternoon, May 21st. from 2:00-4:00. The rain date will be at the same time the following day. Natick’s first Holi celebration was held in 2018, and this year will mark the third such event in the town.
Traditionally, the colors that decorate Holi revelers were derived from natural sources. Many of those recipes involve the boiling of flowers and vegetables to extract vivid pigments. Red may represent love and fertility, and blue a way to honor the Hindu god Krishna. Yellow is sometimes derived from turmeric, the Indian spice valued for its health benefits. Apropos of springtime, green serves as a symbol of new beginnings.
But everything old being new again, volunteers hosting the festival have sourced their pigmented powders from online retailers. Those colors are derived from more modern recipes, featuring cornstarch as a base and the same pigments used to add color to candy.
“It can be any way you want to celebrate,” said Dave.
Natick resident Shriya Joag is also a native of India, and will be working to bring some authenticity and education to the town’s version of Holi. She spoke of some of the main themes associated with the tradition.
“There’s a lot of context to this,” she said, highlighting the festival’s theme of the triumph of good over evil. “The agrarian community hopes for a good harvest,” she added. She is chair of the Natick Cultural Council, and was contacted by Athena Pandolf, executive director of the NCCD. The two sister organizations often partner to host cultural events in the town.
Born in India’s mid-western city of Pune, Joag lived in the Middle East for a time, before moving to the U.S. She recalls the festival of Holi being celebrated in the country of her birth. The festival of colors is one of the most popular events on the Hindu calendar - it’s a national holiday in India - though features of the festival can vary throughout the subcontinent. The celebration there can last days, said Joag, and is sometimes precipitated by a bonfire the night before its colors start to fly.
“A lot of folks partake in it,” said Joag. “It’s not just for Hindus.”