Colorful Celebrations: OCCU’s Holi Festival

Daphne Nwobike

Staff Writer

Plumes of color erupt in the air, accompanied by the gleeful shrieks of students assailing each other with handfuls of colorful powder. The Holi celebration is in full swing on Spencer Quad, bringing with it joy and excitement. Hosted by the Organization for Cross-Cultural Understanding (OCCU), Global Home, Interfaith House, Theta Pi, and other organizations, the Holi festival is evidence of Sewanee’s appreciation for all cultures and backgrounds. 

Religious Studies Professor, Dr. Ved Patel, commenced the ceremony with an opening remark about the significance and meaning of the Holi festival. There are many ways in which Holi can be perceived, such as through the story of Prahlad and his father. Dr. Patel says, “Prahlad is born into a family opposed to religious practice and the belief of God, but Prahlad is inclined to devotion much more than his father is. It develops into an antagonistic relationship between the father and son. Taken to this extreme, his father, named Hiranyakashipu, attempts to bring about the death of his own son. One of the attempts is through his sister, where they are supposed to sit upon a fire pyre, and Prahlad is supposed to die in that manner. The first day of the festival is practiced by burning fire and having an effigy of Holika, the sister of Hiranyakashipu.”

This understanding of Holi begets the question, “If this practice is embedded in the Hindu narrative, do I have to be religious to participate?” The answer to this question revolves around the second interpretation of Holi. “The secondary and more well-known background story about Holi has to do with the passage of certain seasons. It’s actually not fully religious. What it marks, especially with this good weather, is the transition from winter to spring. A lot of the colors used are what you see in bloom as spring comes upon us. Historically, most of the colors are made from natural elements. So the leaves of different trees are crushed and made from them. Those are then thrown on a subsequent day to mark the transition to spring. Most people celebrate Holi to mark that occasion,” says Dr. Patel. 

After Dr. Patel’s speech, we were instructed by OCCU President, Sher Shah Mir (C’26), to grab handfuls of color. Vice President Khush Dakwala (C’26) proceeded to say a few words. He remarked, “As the Vice President of the OCCU, our mission is to spread cultural awareness about different cultures in the world. I personally wanted to show you how Holi is celebrated back home. So enjoy the food, enjoy the event, and enjoy!” With that, the color wars began as students aggressively decorated each other with reds, purples, greens, and more. No one was safe from the bursts of color exploding everywhere. Friends chased each other with gusto, and others resorted to sneak attacks on their unsuspecting victims. Excited screams intermingled with the reverberation of upbeat South Asian music, creating a unique soundtrack to an even more unique event. We were veritable crayons, stained head to toe with color. We adorned our hair, faces, teeth, clothing, and everything in between with the colors of the rainbow. A brief intermission occurred, with people eager to try the food provided—savory samosa and sweet, frothy mango lassi—before returning to the colorful battlefield.

Holi is the perfect way to see spring come to life. After a frigid winter, Holi enables us to bask in the sun’s radiance while appreciating the beauty of flowers in bloom. 

Photo courtesy of Daphne Nwobike