The workshop culminated with the incredible Hindu celebration of Holi. This celebration of color glorifies the end of the winter and the dry season with the expectation of rain and the summer. Bonfires are lit the night before and the following day people throw colors all over each other, in hopes of keeping away the fevers and cold that come with the changing weather. We were very fortunate to be able to celebrate with a community especially known for its Holi celebrations.
As we were waiting outside our guest house to meet up everyone, we were quickly drawn to a large group of men shouting and dancing to Sean Paul’s ‘Temperature’. Somehow, they had found a 20-foot long tree trunk about three feet in diameter and were moving it to an open lot where they were going to burn it. I have no idea where it came from. There were no trees to be found anywhere near this area. Amazingly, they were moving it just with a terra cotta pipe, picking it up, moving the pipe forward and then the rolling the tree on top of it. A couple of us jumped in to help, much to the joy of everyone there. It was an infectious energy, of intense celebration.
We made it to Koliwada and found hordes of people already packing the streets and then filtering into the main square, the one decent sized open space in the whole community. We had an amazing vantage point to watch the proceedings, as it seemed all of Dharavi had made it there. The celebrations began with fireworks, music, and the lighting of the massive bonfire. Beautifully dressed women then began the procession into the square with elaborately decorated pots on their heads, walked around the bonfire 5 times and then threw the pots in. It was hot enough without the fire.
We then proceeded to find our way out into the streets where the real partying was going on. As if people weren’t pumped up enough, the sight of 20 or so foreigners definitely got people jazzed up. At different locations, there were DJ’s set up blasting out the latest Indian and Western dance hits, all to the crazed energy and joy of the pulsating crowds. For the next three of four hours, we passed from party to party out in the streets and the alleys. We culminated in a small square in the heart of Koliwada, where the intimate space infused with the elaborately dressed people, the lights strung from above, and the continuous dance music made for an extraordinary time. Did I mention it was hot? I was drenched at this point, and most people were just getting started.
The next day offered a good bit of anxiety about whether or not to even leave the hotel, as the word was that you would get covered colors, water, eggs, you name it, whether you liked it or not. Having come this far around the world and wanting the experience such a festival, I decided to briefly wander out with a couple of other folks in search of bananas. Some kids instantly saw me and tried to shake my hand. They were covered in color, and covered my hand and arm. As we walked around Dharavi, we began to notice how entire streets and alleyways were crazy shades of purple and red, with music still pumping from the night before. We noticed a particular active group of young people and looked a little closer and that was our downfall. Upon my being noticed, I was immediately pummeled with eggs, powder, and colored water as young boys put their covered hands all over my body including my face. Welcome to holi. It was hot. I was sweaty, covered in eggs, probably toxic powder, and the hands from all kinds of kids. And it felt good. At least for a bit. I took 6 showers that day. The color did offer me some defense for the next couple of times I went out.I did wander back to Koliwada and found small groups dancing away (still, as it was late afternoon), mostly with water this time. One group had rigged up a hose to a one liter bottle and punched holes in the bottom of it and strung up over a small area in front of someone’s home. Instant shower. The sun was filtering through and we were able to dance away all the sweat, eggs, and color from earlier in the day. It was awesome. Total cleansing. Once again, there was something about space in between these buildings that was able to activate and facilitate such a gathering and exchange of energy.