Holi celebration brings color to the Hilltop

Color stained Sanjeev Varma, Arni Kulkarni, and Rafiah Shariz couldn’t contain their excitement for Holi. PHOTO COURTESY OF SANJEEV VARMA

As a first-year student at USF, I did not know what to expect from USF’s celebration of Holi, or, more importantly, what to wear. I knew that soon enough, I would be covered head to toe in red, orange, green, blue, and yellow powders. 

Last week, the USF Indian Student Organization hit the Hilltop with Holi — an annual cultural festivity that welcomes the upcoming spring and casts away bad energy. During Holi celebrations, people toss brightly colored powder at each other, each color symbolizing a prosperity like love or happiness.

The organizers offered attendees multiple colored powders to play with, as well as snacks and refreshing lassi drinks. Students ran around playing tag and chasing each other with buckets of water on the Lone Mountain East lawn. People threw Holi snowballs — made by combining colorful powder with water — while screaming “Happy Holi!” 

Growing up, I was limited in my knowledge of Holi, but would look forward to it anyway because it was the only time I could make a mess around my house without getting in trouble. I grew up in New York, and since Holi is always celebrated in March, it would be freezing. Instead of celebrating Holi outdoors, we would have family gatherings indoors with lots of food, drinks, and baby powder. 

Celebrating Holi at USF was refreshing and fun, especially since I’m far away from home and family in New York. Like the sneak attacks from my cousins and siblings growing up, my peers crept up on me and covered me in many different colors. In Hindu culture, there’s a saying that goes: “Bura na mano, Holi hai!” Which translates to, “Do not mind, it’s Holi!” This makes pranks, sneak attacks, and other playfulness acceptable.  

Holi festivals date back to the 4th century CE. While there are many stories behind the origins of Holi I’ll tell you one of my favorites: the story of Krishna and Radha. In Hindu mythology, the god and goddess Krishna and Radha inspired the celebration of Holi as a result of their love. Krishna was poisoned as a baby and turned permanently blue and feared that Radha would not love him because of his skin color. However, Krishna’s mother suggested that he playfully put some colors on Radha’s face, and Radha fell in love with him for his pranks and playfulness. Thus, the festival of colors became tradition. 

Students who had never celebrated Holi before, like first-year biology major Peter Orsmand,  said that they learned a lot and had a great time. “I did not know Holi existed, to be honest,” Orsmand said. “There’s so much color, I just enjoy it. It’s artistic in some way.” 

Others felt excited to continue celebrating a familiar holiday. Arni Kulkarni, a first-year psychology major said, “Holi means fun for me. It’s such a fun way to celebrate my culture and be around people who are like me, and be safe in a fun space.” First-year performing arts and social justice major Sanjeev Varma said having a Holi festival at USF made him feel at home. “It’s one of those holidays that I loved sharing with my friends growing up,” he said. “It made me feel welcome and seen.”


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