Liliana Medina

Festival of Holi, India 1999.
Artist statement

Holi, the festival of colours, is a time of emotional, mental and physical cleansing, of death and rebirth, of spring before the New Year, of new meetings and fresh starts in all relationships. It is a passionate celebration of emotions, of love and joy; and for me at times it felt like war.

On the days approaching the beginning of the festival, street vendors fully equipped with water guns of all sizes, water pumps and pigments of all colours appear out of nowhere. It is a sign of the magnitude of what is yet to come, something I will not fully understand until the next day… the first day of the festival.

First in Barsana then in Nandagow, the streets are full with people playing Holi, powdered colour is being thrown at everyone and everything. The streets become a “be at your own risk” zone and people come to see the ritual take place. The women of one village (Gopis, milk maids) encounter the men of the other. They tease, dance and sing back and forth, just like Lord Krishna ( the God of Love) and his lover Radha ( a Gopi) once did. Pigments of colour are flying everywhere and on everyone. Suddenly, the Gopis start hitting the men with large wooden sticks and the men, on their knees, protect themselves with rubber shields.

The Festival then travels to Mathura where a Cultural Event reenacting the history and mythology of the festival takes place. Through small plays, dances, and songs, the audience is taken back through time to the age of Krishna and Radha. The following day Holi is played in the houses, gangs of young men and children take on the streets for their own endeavors. No one is safe.

Baldev, the last city of the Festival, becomes a massive act of letting go. “Huranga”, as it is called, means playing Holi at a large scale. Here it is played in the courtyard of the Temple…it is the one time of the year were people of all casts get together as one to shower paint on each other.

The air is hot and vibrant…the drums are being beaten and the trumpets played… the water pipes opened… people start to let their bodies move to the rhythms on the air… hundreds of people bellow… above huge potato sacks filled with coloured pigments of all shades: purple, red, pink, green, yellow, silver … like a dry rain of colours it all comes down… coloured water comes and goes in all directions, buckets, huge brass pumps, balloons…the women rip the shirts of men and start hitting them while others dance while others sing while others run around the courtyard with a massive drum… the dance becomes more euphoric as the drummers and the trumpeters loose themselves inside their own rhythms ….the sun shines through the particles of color… like a Kandinsky painting performed in front of my eyes, chaotic yet in perfect harmony.

“Huranga” is a massive catharsis, a silent massive exchange of feelings, of internal cleansing, of passionately letting go and again coming back to one's Self in preparation for the New Year ahead.

From Barsana to Nandagow to Mathura to Baldev, the Homelands of Lord Krishna, Holi is played for 10 days. It is a rite of passage from the old to the new, from evil to good, from winter to spring. Holi is one of those timeless moments of pure joy and ecstasy, of letting the body dance to the souls' desires.

Natalie Schonfeld.©2000

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