Holi was something I’d been vaguely aware of since before I arrived in India, but as the actual day of the holiday approached, I grew steadily more curious about what the celebration would actually entail. I knew that there’d be colors, but I’d also heard rumors of water guns, water balloons, and mud. I knew that the holiday was officially on Thursday the 21st, but we heard from various sources that the festivities would be on Wednesday afternoon, on Wednesday night, on Thursday, on Thursday morning. I didn’t even seem to be able to get a definitive answer on what the festival was for—one person said it was to celebrate the birth of Krishna, another said it was to commemorate the immolation of the demon Hollika, and yet another said it was a secular holiday to celebrate the coming of spring.
All this meant that as the eve of Holi arrived, I still had very little idea what to expect. Believing that festivities would already have begun in Hyderabad’s Old City by that night, my friends and I headed to Charminar to seek out the celebration. On the way, we drove past a few roadside bonfires, which our Uber driver eagerly pointed out, but at Charminar, all seemed as calm as any other Wednesday night. We split up to search for colors and for bhang, which we had also heard played a role in Holi celebrations, and when we reconvened about half an hour later, one group returned covered in color, one group returned with bhang, and one returned with ice cream—all in all, a successful quest.
Our experience in the Old City had led us to imagine that the Holi celebration on campus the next day would be fun but mild—powdered color gently smudged on our faces, friendly “Happy Holi!”s, maybe even some cheerful music. It didn’t take us long to find out that that wasn’t to be the case.
Almost immediately upon leaving Tagore, students ran up to us and rubbed color on our faces and threw handfuls of it against our glaringly clean clothes. We soon heard that there was a party raging at D Hostel, so we hopped onto a crowded bus and emerged to find thumping music, free bhang, and a makeshift hose-and-pipe structure that was showering water upon the wildly dancing students. Within only a few minutes, our clothes had been drenched in color and we had watched several groups of students literally rip the shirts off their friends’ bodies and throw them into the trees. It was barely 11am.
We soon headed to South Shopcom, where the hired DJ was playing. There it was more colorful but much less wet—at least at first. Friends showed up with water pistols made from soda bottles and pen shafts, and buckets of liquid color spilled their way through the pulsing crowd. As I was dancing, I heard cheers and screams suddenly erupt behind me, and when I turned to look, an entire water tanker truck had pulled up to the grounds; within minutes, we were all soaked through to the skin, and coated in mud up to the knees.
The party only got more crazed from there, as the bhang kicked in and the fervor of the crowd rose with the intensifying music. More colors were thrown; shirts were taken off and hurled into the trees (where they’re still hanging, even two weeks later); I was picked up and dropped to the muddy ground, and soon was helping to throw others into the mud. It was a wild, colorful, messy, muddy, loud, and incredibly fun time, dancing with both friends and strangers whose faces were transformed every minute as new colors were smeared on and then washed away then colored all over again. It was breathless and thrilling, being completely caught up in the ecstatic celebration in which everyone around me was as fully immersed as I was. Happy Holi!