Holi across the oceans

Storizen Magazine - - Contents - By Sham­lal Puri

In­di­ans liv­ing across the world never for­get to cel­e­brate their fes­ti­vals. Be it Di­wali, Gupurab or Holi, we cel­e­brate it with full en­ergy and a splash of colours of the rain­bow.

Holi is a spring fes­ti­val cel­e­brated by Hin­dus, as a fes­ti­val of colours. Over the years, this day fes­ti­val has be­come an im­por­tant­fix­ture in many re­gions wher­ever In­dian di­as­pora had found its roots, be it in Africa, North Amer­ica, Europe or closer to home in South Asia. Ev­ery year, thou­sands of Hin­dus par­tic­i­pate in the fes­ti­val Holi. It has many pur­poses.

First and fore­most, it cel­e­brates the be­gin­ning of the new sea­son, spring and its im­por­tance also lie in Hindu mythol­ogy.

I have lived a sig­nif­i­cant part of my life in sev­eral parts of the world

– Africa, Mid­dle East, Europe and the USA where Holi is cel­e­brated and in my jour­nal­ism ca­reer while as­sign­ments abroad found my­self en­joy­ing the event in

To­gether, the en­tire Asian com­mu­nity showed such love and friend­ship de­spite their re­li­gious back­grounds, and we all of­ten joined to cel­e­brate each other’s fes­ti­vals in their re­spec­tive places of wor­ship.

South Africa, and, as far away as Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago and Ja­maica.

I have child­hood mem­o­ries of tak­ing part in Holi fes­tiv­i­ties while liv­ing and grow­ing in Tan­za­nia, East Africa. I lived in a town called Kigoma, on the shores of Lake Tan­ganyika, in western Tan­za­nia, which was a melt­ing pot of a small com­mu­nity of Hin­dus, Sikhs and Mus­lims - all col­lec­tively called Asians. They formed the back­bone of pro­fes­sion­als and the lo­cal busi­ness set­ups.

To­gether, the en­tire Asian com­mu­nity showed such love and friend­ship de­spite their re­li­gious back­grounds ,and we all of­ten joined to cel­e­brate each other’s fes­ti­vals in their re­spec­tive places of wor­ship. Hin­dus and Sikhs at­tended the Hindu Mandir on the shores of the 4,820 feet deep Lake Tan­ganyika, the world’s sec­ond largest and deep­est sweet wa­ter lake in the Rift Val­ley af­ter Lake Baikal in Rus­sia.

The dom­i­nant Hindu com­mu­nity of the town con­sisted of Gu­jaratis fol­lowed by Pun­jabis and few Ben­galis.

Asian mi­gra­tion to the then Tan­ganyika (later re­named Tan­za­nia) started in the 1800s, but they were joined by other groups over the years. Many Asians in Kigoma formed part of the new ar­rivals of the 1950s on­wards.

This gen­er­a­tion had set­tled in Tan­za­nia from the In­dian sub-con­ti­nent and was fully aware of the sig­nif­i­cance of Holy – the ar­rival of spring in In­dia and oth­ers who knew of the im­por­tance of this

Fes­ti­val of Colours ex­plained its im­por­tance in the mythol­ogy – the vic­tory of good over evil af­ter the thwart­ing of a Hindu demon King. I re­mem­ber well the night be­fore Holi when a Ho­lika bon­fire was lit, and we all cir­cled around it throw­ing co­conuts into the leap­ing flames. This is to mark the de­feat of the de­moness Ho­lika.

The fol­low­ing day col­ors were splashed across all Asian com­mu­nity mem­bers met each other, play­fully squirt­ing gu­lal and en­joy­ing a laugh­ing for­get­ting all their prob­lems.

This was a prime ex­am­ple of build­ing bridges be­tween var­i­ous Asian re­li­gions. It was so­cial co­he­sion in liv­ing color!

Such events built long-last­ing friend­ships many of which have lasted to this day.

One in­ci­dent comes to mind when as a shy nine-year-old, dressed in a white shirt splashed with splodges of dark red color caught the at­ten­tion of a lo­cal Tan­za­nian African, who worked as a tele­phone ex­change op­er­a­tor at the Post Of­fice. His first re­ac­tion in jest was when asked me in Kiswahili lan­guage: “How many peo­ple have you mur­dered today?”

He al­ways re­minded me of his jokey ques­tion sev­eral years down the line when­ever I phoned the old sys­tem man­ual tele­phone ex­change at a time when you had to be asked to put through to a tele­phone num­ber in the town.

Cel­e­bra­tions in Dar es Salaam, the eco­nomic cap­i­tal of Tan­za­nia, the In­dian Ocean city in the east, the home of 100,000 Hin­dus at one time, were even more vi­brant.

That was also the case with cel­e­bra­tions across the bor­der in Nairobi, Kenya and Kam­pala, Uganda where there were some 200,000 Hin­dus at one time but who mi­grated to the UK and In­dia since then.

Holi is cel­e­brated with full en­ergy by the ma­jor­ity of more than half a mil­lion Hin­dus in South Africa.

Mem­bers of other re­li­gions in this Rain­bow Na­tion join in this fun-filled day. Dur­ban is a crowd-puller dur­ing the Holy fes­ti­val.

Lon­don, where I live these days, is the epi­cen­ter of all Hindu fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing Holi which is cel­e­brated in the United King­dom by the nearly one mil­lion Hindu com­mu­nity.

The an­nual Holi Fes­ti­val of Col­ors held in Lon­don is now a ma­jor at­trac­tion not only for the Hin­dus but also the white Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion who turn up in sig­nif­i­cant numbers to en­joy the fun and frolic of this col­or­ful event.

There is a strong Hindu com­mu­nity set­tled in Wem­b­ley, Southall, Toot­ing sub­urbs of Lon­don and further afield in Le­ices­ter in the Bri­tish Mid­lands. In­ter­est­ingly, the Holi fes­ti­val was held in Ger­many in 2011 by Hin­dus and other com­mu­ni­ties.

Since then, the con­cept has since cap­ti­vated crowds from all back­grounds in Mu­nich, Han­nover and further afield in New York, Peru, Mex­ico, Turkey, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Tokyo, and Sin­ga­pore splash­ing col­ors and en­joy­ing mu­sic and dance.

This is one day of the year when all cour­te­sies take a back­seat and who­ever comes in the path of rev­el­ers is splashed with color.

Sham­lal Puri is a vet­eran in­ter­na­tional award-win­ning jour­nal­ist, au­thor, broad­caster and pho­tog­ra­pher who has worked in Africa, Asia, the Mid­dle East and Europe in a ca­reer span­ning 48 years. He is the au­thor of 16 books and lives and works in Lon­don.

Sham­lal Puri is a vet­eran in­ter­na­tional award-win­ning jour­nal­ist, au­thor, broad­caster and pho­tog­ra­pher who has worked in Africa, Asia, the Mid­dle East and Europe in a ca­reer span­ning 48 years. He is the au­thor of 16 books and lives and works in Lon­don.

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