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1-800-HOLIBLING CMU Holi 2016

Credit: Theodore Teichman/Assistant Photo Editor Credit: Theodore Teichman/Assistant Photo Editor Credit: Theodore Teichman/Assistant Photo Editor Credit: Theodore Teichman/Assistant Photo Editor

Holi was celebrated on campus this Saturday as hundreds of people took to Hamerschlag Hall lawn (The Mall) to participate in the seasonal tradition. This year’s event brought in over a thousand people from all corners of the diverse Carnegie Mellon community. The celebration was organized by OM, the South Asian spiritual club. OM has coordinated Holi celebrations on campus in previous years. Each year a different tag line is used to keep the event current and trendy. This year the event was promoted as 1-800-HOLIBLING: CMU Holi 2016, a play on the popular Drake song, Hotline Bling.

Holi has exploded across college campuses and other venues in the United States within the last several years. Much of Holi’s success and spread can be attributed to social media, popular entertainment, media, and the pure and simple fun of it. The tradition of throwing colored powder has been adapted to color runs, music festivals, and other outdoor springtime activities around the nation.

The main part of the celebration involves smearing colored powder on participant’s faces in a spontaneous, lively atmosphere. In India, Holi is usually not contained to college campuses and select events. Holi happens on one day across the whole country. In a nation often divided by its brimming diversity, it is the one day people of many different backgrounds come together to engage in play. Holi is regarded as a time of new beginnings; a time of rebirth and rejuvenation.

In the United States, Holi has become a tradition with its own unique eccentricities and mainstays in its own right. Many American Holi events, for example, feature music, DJs, and performers, with contemporary Bollywood and western music. The events are usually organized and held in large venues and open locations rather than on city streets. For first-year information systems major Shubhangi Bhotika, who grew up in India, HOLIBLING at Carnegie Mellon was a truly unique experience.

“When I play Holi in India, I prefer playing with a small group of friends on the streets or a smaller more isolated location. It is also preferable to play with colors mixed with water, and we like using a variety of stuff like water guns and water balloons,” she said. HOLIBLING was, for the most part, a “dry Holi,” using colored rice-flour powder. In India, water games in addition to powder are cornerstones of Holi.

Bhotika added, “HOLIBLING was really different in [the] number of people I played with, the very public location, use of dry [and] powdered colors, the music and performances. It was pretty awesome and is still quite similar to Holi back home, but definitely has its differences. I equally enjoy both styles.”

This year’s Holi was celebrated on March 24 around the world. This date marks the end of winter by the Hindu calendar and the last full moon of the month Phalgun, and this can vary from February to March on the Gregorian calendar. The Carnegie Mellon celebration was held off in order to coincide with spring carnival and warmer weather.

Preparations started weeks in advance, when orders were sent out for white t-shirts for those who pre-ordered tickets. On the day of the event, OM board members worked tirelessly to ensure that the surrounding academic buildings were inaccessible to the participants, catered food was in place for serving, and people knew where to go. Around noon, a crowd began to form near Baker Hall and Porter Hall. After tickets were checked, all the participants were served an Indian vegetarian meal from the Coriander India Grill. Anticipation built as the crowd could tell the real fun was about to start.

Colors began to fly at around 1:15 p.m. as the lawn erupted into clouds of powder. Once inside the crowd, it was impossible to avoid being spattered with bright hues of pink, yellow, light blue, and purple. As the initial excitement began to slow down, the dance teams began to perform, once again elevating the energy levels of the crowd. The color throwing soon became a free-for-all, as it became increasingly difficult to recognize individuals under the coats of colored powder.

“The atmosphere was amazing; unlike anything I can remember. I liked how everybody threw the colors at everybody whether they knew them or not. It all played into an environment where everyone was dancing and happy.” said first-year Dietrich student Theo Yannekis, who experienced Holi for the first time. Many first-timers were surprised how fun such a simple activity can be. Indeed, Holi seems to be gaining traction not only around the rest of the nation, but here at Carnegie Mellon, with this year garnering one of the largest crowds so far, with over 1000 people in attendance. Curious alumni and members of the general public who were visiting for carnival were curious to see what was happening, and some even gathered to watch the performances and take pictures of the colorful participants.

In all the excitement and celebration, it can be easy to forget that Holi is a very ancient practice, which has significance beyond having fun. Recent articles published by NPR and other outlets have brought up the issue of Holi being used as cultural appropriation; whereby Indian culture is misrepresented by placing a heavy emphasis on Holi. This was in response to Coldplay and Beyonce’s recent release, [ITAL]Hymn for the Weekend[ITAL], which features an Indian Holi celebration.

Holi is a tradition that has its roots in Hinduism. There are several themes that the festival celebrates; colors are used to symbolize the coming of spring and the end of winter. Another popular theme is the triumph of good over evil, which is the basis for a popular folk story on the origin of Holi. As the story goes, there was once an evil king named Hiranyakashipu in ancient India. His young son, Prahlad, instead of swearing allegiance to his father, worshiped the god Shiva. Hiranyakashipu ordered his sister, Holika, who had the power to withstand flames, to carry Prahlad into a bonfire to kill him. As Prahlad was being carried into the fire, he prayed calmly. Holika burned to ashes and Prahlad walked out of the fire unscathed. In India, the bonfires lit on Holi night commemorate Prahlad’s devotion, and the death of Holika. Despite the tradition, many people, even in India, celebrate Holi just for fun. The entertainment of Holi is a factor which will continue to make it universally appealing. However, it is important to at least recognize that it has a deeper meaning.

Despite some minor hassles, HOLIBLING at Carnegie Mellon was largely successful. The event was delayed slightly due to the long lines. Because some participants did not pick up t-shirts during the tabling period, they were not guaranteed one at the event. Ultimately, the large crowds were managed successfully, and most of the issues with t-shirt orders were resolved before the main event started.

OM President and junior computer science major Bharadwaj Ramachandran said “Because of the new venue at the mall, people were able to stay closer together, and the event was accessible to people crossing campus during carnival. That definitely extended our audience this year.” In previous years, Holi was held on Flagstaff hill in Schenley Park. Last year, it was held for the first time on campus, on the CFA lawn. Each year, attendance has increased. Ticket sales were also increased due to a boost in last-minute sales from interested onlookers eager to partake in the action.

True to the name, Hotline Bling was played as the event was wrapping up.