April 21, 2003

Hindu Students Celebrate Holi

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More than 350 people attended the Hindu Student Council’s (HSC) Holi Celebration at the Annabel Taylor Hall courtyard on Saturday afternoon. Visitors from the community and other universities joined Cornell students and staff members to observe the Hindu springtime festival of colors.

Festivities included, among other events, throwing 40 lbs. of colored powder and a number of games and activities, including relay races, sponsored by the Cornell Indian Association (CIA), which is made up of mostly graduate students of South Asian descent.

The Cornell Bhangra Club and Sitara Dance Troupe also performed cultural Indian dances and led audience members in informal Garba and Ras, or traditional celebratory dances that hail from the north Indian province of Gujarat.

Those who attended the Holi festivities also were given the opportunity to taste various Indian foods, including appetizers, such as somosas, pakoras and various sweets, as well as an Indian version of lemonade.

Former HSC President Ashwin Patel ’03 said that Cornell’s Holi celebration was comparable to the wide-scale celebrations held in India.

“For most people at the festival, even me, this was the first time to celebrate Holi in this capacity because generally it is only celebrated so elaborately in India. It was especially good because it united people of all cultures and religions. People were not only throwing color on their friends, but they were going up to strangers and basically breaking boundaries. And that’s what Holi is supposed to be,” Patel said.

Meera Rajani, president, South Asian Students’ Association at the University of Massachusetts, attended Cornell’s Holi celebration to support members of HSC and to collect ideas for the implementation of such activities at her school.

“I think that it is very appropriate for Cornell to be celebrating Holi in this capacity, considering the events in the world, because Holi is an excuse for people to shed their inhibitions and differences and come together for a day of good fun,” said Rajani.

Attendees of the celebration included people with various different cultural and religious affiliations, including Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Jews; those in attendance coming from India, Pakistan, America and other diverse nations around the world.

Joe Hoegler ’04 enjoyed the festival because it gave him a chance to penetrate the Indian culture and take part in it.

“A friend of mine is on the HSC board and encouraged me to attend the event. I am glad I came because I had a good time. It was a lot of fun throwing the powder and I liked the fact that I got to see a little bit of the background of Indian culture. It’s really interesting,” said Hoegler.

HSC president Amit Rajani ’04 said that it is a brand new organization that “seeks to promote the religious and cultural traditions of India, specifically the ideals and philosophy of Hinduism.”

Because of the recent creation of the organization, Holi was HSC’s first large-scale event. However, Rajani said that it was worth the effort because of all that Holi signifies in Hindu culture and religion.

According to Patel, the celebration of Holi represents the legendary triumph of good over evil to members of the Hindu faith.

“Many stories about the significance of Holi have developed over the years in Hindu culture, but they all have a thematic reference to the victory of good over evil,” Patel said.

He added that one such story centered on the legendary King Hiranyakashyapu, who believed himself to be of Godly status because of his immense power.

“The king convinced his subjects to worship him instead of Lord Vishnu, the Creator. However, while in the womb, the king’s son Prahlad had been instructed by a saint that Lord Vishnu was the greatest. When Prahlad was born, he rejected the recognition of his father as God and so the king and his sister Holika tried to kill him in various different ways. But each time, Prahlad was saved by the grace of God and the king and Holika perished in the process.”

According to this story, Pratel said, the term “Holi” was derived from Holika’s name and the festival itself commemorates Prahlad’s survival and defeat of his evil family. Patel added that the celebratory traditions of throwing colored powder and participating in Garba and Ras were developed by Krishna, who is reputed as the fun and mischievous Hindu god.

HSC plans to hold many more events to spread and celebrate Hindu culture. Among others, future HSC programs will include the featuring of speakers on campus, more service events, confronting common misconceptions of Hinduism and an art gallery exhibition that will present ancient Indian contributions to math, science and other fields.

Rajani said that Cornell students should look forward to one more extremely important HSC event this semester: the Saraswati Puja, which is a religious tribute to Saraswati or the goddess of knowledge.

“The Puja will be held to honor [Saraswati] before exam time so she may bless us for finals and hopefully let us do well on them. It will be held on May 3 and is open to all,” Rajani said.

Archived article by Anita Valliani