University of Pittsburgh

commons room

Holi Color!

Written by Adam Reger

Halfway up Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park, members of Pitt’s Hindu Students Council pose for a “before” photo. They’re dressed in sweatpants and T-shirts—clothes that are old but clean.

Then the students open bags of colored powder. Shyly at first, they dab the colors on each other, streaking their friends’ hair, faces, and clothes. Soon, that shyness is gone. Within minutes, more than 20 students are darting across the hillside, hurling fistfuls of color at each other, clapping green and purple on their friends’ backs, and shrieking as they dump bags of turquoise and orange over each others’ heads.

One student stands on a concrete patio in the middle of the grass—the “safe” area—and snaps photos. It’s Shipra Kumar, a freshman majoring in economics and linguistics. She sprained her ankle and can’t run today. Still, she’s glad that she can observe Holi, a traditional Hindu harvest festival.

While her friends rush around on the grass, Kumar explains that Holi celebrates the Hindu god Vishnu killing a demon. “Because the demon died,” she says, “we’re celebrating the death of evil—with color!” Holi, she says, is a major holiday in India. When she celebrated it there, cities shut down and festivalgoers danced and sang in the streets. It involved mixing water with colored powder, making the colors much harder to remove from clothes and skin than the powder the students are using today.

While the celebration of the death of evil continues, a pair of Pitt students ambles up the hill. “Hey, how do we get involved in the color fight?” asks Sean Malloy, a sophomore majoring in math, music, and Spanish. He saw a flier advertising the festival and decided to check it out with his friend. They’d never heard of Holi before.

“Just grab a bag,” Kumar says. “The patio’s off-limits.”

It doesn’t take long for the new students to jump into action. “You look good with purple hair,” Malloy says to his companion after dumping a bag of purple powder over her head. Nearby, two girls chase down a boy, who dodges and weaves but eventually lowers his head in resignation as the girls plaster him with fistfuls of pink and turquoise.

Although Holi is a rite of spring, the day is raw and blustery. Powder blows off the students’ clothes and moves in multi-colored gusts across the hill. Students who get bits of powder in their eyes walk dazedly across the patio to douse their eyes with water.

When all of the colored powder is gone, everyone runs around to gather up the empty plastic bags that the wind has carried away. Holi is over for this year.

Before everyone drifts off, Shipra shepherds them onto the patio. They form two vibrant, speckled, multicolored rows, their faces caked with colors, and smile for their “after” photo.