Jane Wilson-Howarth

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Holi

Monday, 11 March 2019
This was Holi – the Hindu festival of colour – which is celebrated in Nepal on the full moon that falls in the month of Falgun (this year it is on 20th March). I knew I would be a target as I cycled to the office through parts of the Kathmandu Valley where few foreigners wander so as a precaution I’d put on dark-coloured clothes.
I smiled at the comments about me as I cycled past small boys who were already armed with water balloons. One boy said to a friend ‘Let’s hit her back: she won’t see’ but although they were tempted to bombard me no-one was brave enough to take the first shot.
Returning at lunchtime Holi was hotting up and people were up on rooftops, firing water balloons from third and fourth floors. Mercifully their aim was poor.
I was not going to miss out on the fun though and wandered out with my son in the afternoon and headed towards Patan Durbar Square. After not many paces we encountered a group of young men who, after politely asking if they could put colour on us, plastered our faces with red blue and green power.
This seemed to be a signal for others to shower and adorn us so that by the time we reached Patan, powder slicked off us whenever we laughed.
The festival is open to all but seems particularly to be enjoyed by young adults who flirt and tease one-another. It is an enormously good-natured and we found ourselves featuring in many selfies.
This year the festival falls in March but the date varies according to whether you are in the Kathmandu Valley or the Nepali lowlands or in India but everywhere the theme is the same: lots of colour and water is thrown. Generally, it is lively but respectful even if it would be very unwise to venture out in a favourite white shirt.
There are various stories about the origin of Holi but one Nepali friend told me that it actually marks an event in the life of Lord Krishna whom she described as a womaniser. He was wandering in the jungle when he encountered a pile of women’s clothes. The owners, who were of course all beauties, were bathing naked in the river. The less-than-gentlemanly response from the mischievous deity was to taunt the women from the riverbank, challenging them to emerge naked from the water to reclaim their saris. Holi celebrates the women’s blushes. It is a spring festival of rejuvenation and in India and the Indian diaspora is variously said to mark Krishna’s salvation from the she-demon who poisoned him and especially the victory of good over evil.
Laughing with perfect strangers in Patan, Nepal
 
As unchivalrous as Lord Krishna
 
Flirting and posing for photos seem to be big parts of Holi in Kathmandu each spring
 
Taking some time out from Holi frivolities in Patan Durbar Square
 
Lord Krishna and friends in a shrine at Chobhar in the Kathmandu Valley