Purple powder people
What can be bad about an event where paint-throwing is encouraged? Welcome to Holi, the Hindu festival of colors. It falls annually on one of the full moons in late spring and has, for the past couple of years, occurred over spring break. However, Carnegie Mellon students, being the paint-loving kids that we are, celebrate Holi with a massive color war on Flagstaff Hill every spring during Carnival weekend.
Due to Hinduism’s evolution as an intricate web of mythology and philosophy, there are probably many stories that led to the creation of Holi, none of them really having anything to do with color wars.
The most famous story is that of Hiranyakashipu, king of the demons, who became far too powerful and could only be defeated by Narasimha, the fourth avatar of Vishnu. Actually, kings who accrue far too much power is a theme Hinduism is especially fond of, especially kings that must be defeated by avatars of Vishnu, but I digress. Hiranyakashipu had a son named Prahalad — who was a devotee of Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu — who had a severe god complex, by the way — didn’t like that, so he tried to kill Prahalad repeatedly. As the story goes, Prahalad called on Vishnu, who appeared in the form of Narasimha, a half-lion, half-man, and killed Hiranyakashipu. And they all lived happily ever after. Except for Hiranyakashipu — who died. Isn’t Hinduism fun?
So you’re probably still wondering how throwing colored powder become a part of Holi. Chances are nobody really knows. There are stories of Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu (there are 10), having color wars with his friends when he was a child. So this tradition, like every other Hindu custom, dates back quite a ways.
Carnegie Mellon’s Holi event is put on by OM, the Hindu/Jain/Sikh organization on campus. According to first-year representative Akshat Gupta, OM has been sponsoring this event for seven years, and over 200 people show up every year for the paint-flinging frenzy.
This year’s event got off to a slow start due to the delayed arrival of the caterers. In addition to that minor fiasco, there was the misprinting of the Holi T-shirts, on which the text was printed upside down, showing “WO” instead of “OM.” Despite these setbacks and the rain, many people showed up, ready to hurl colored dye at one another. When asked if rain would hinder the color war, the more experienced warriors just replied, “It just makes the powder stick better.” Interestingly enough, in India, the powder is often mixed with water in large basins and dumped on innocent or not-so-innocent passer-by.
So if you managed to catch a glimpse of lunatics scampering around Flagstaff, dyed red, blue, and green from head to toe, you witnessed the mania that is Holi. You weren’t just tripping.