Holi: the tolerance of a rainbow nation?

By 21:31

This year, I noticed a huge marketing of the celebration of the Indian festival of colour, Holi, on social media. Traditionally, it is a cultural festival celebrated within the Indian community. So I was pleasantly surprised at the extension of the Holi One invitation to everyone. At last a sign of tolerance of cultural festivals – or so I thought.

For millennia, Holi has been celebrated in India to welcome in Spring. Prayers are performed at home or at a temple and then celebrations begin. The colours that Spring brings is symbolised in the fun and games. It’s all about setting free your inner child to happily throw around coloured powders and naughtily smear it on friends when they least expect it.

Based on the Hindu holy day, the Holi One festival, held in Cape Town earlier this month hailed 10 000 people all dressed in white to celebrate with music played by top DJs. Every hour, a countdown released a burst of coloured powder into the air. Revellers partied to the uplifting electronic music, whilst simultaneously getting higher with alcohol and whatever else…

Thinking back on Diwali, I had hoped both Hindus and non-Hindus would be more tolerant of each other so that the holy day could be observed and celebrated. A few months later, we have an abundance of acceptance of Holi from non-observers. Participation even!

I can’t help but wonder whether this acceptance isn’t the mark of a society changing its tolerance levels but rather of a society that is conveniently tolerant. The right to celebrate Holi isn’t publicly called into question as it was by many for Diwali. Probably because Holi One is fun – or rather deemed as tolerated fun. Even though it’s based on the Hindu festival of Holi and borrows many of its attributes, the Holi One festival is essentially one big party featuring many things that Holi is not.

When organising a festival that is meant to promote peace, love, happiness, tolerance and unity, one would think that the organisers would have involved the people where the concept is borrowed from. True religious tolerance would have steered the organisers to speak with Hindu people or perhaps even a body that represents them nationally like the Hindu Maha Sabha. Instead, the event was heavily promoted on social media for ticket sales without much of a thought of the people who have celebrated the festival for thousands of years. The result is unhappy Hindus who feel like their religious festivals are disrespected, tainted and commercialised.

A ridiculous analogy would be like organising a huge party on Ascension Day in Europe. We could celebrate with the release of helium balloons or fire lanterns every hour representing Jesus’ ascension into the heavens. Let’s bring on the best DJs, hottest electronica and hand out acid and various other psychedelics so that we can all get high for the occasion. 

We can’t protect every religious and cultural festival from being commercialised and stripped off its true meaning. With better management and consultation, perhaps a compromise could have been reached to avoid encroaching on something culturally sensitive.

There are many successful religious festivals that, although commercialised, still maintain their religious essence without disrespecting the religion such as the festivals for the Chinese New Year, Diwali and Christmas.

It’s Holi One this year. How would you feel when next year the party is Ramadaan One, Yom Kippur One or Easter One?

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  1. Any ONE is cool, groovy and can be celebrated ,observed , participated in . What you need to accept is that religion for many is rapidly being defined as an expression of oneself interacting with a globalised world more than a moral aquiessence to a control structure based on fear of the unknown.This comes into direct conflict with one of the main precepts of orgainsed faiths and religions which is to spread ,go forth and spread the word be it Islam , Christianity , Buddihism,Hinduism ,Taoism ..... What perceived knowledge has done in the last 15 years is remove the church and (later the state's) monopoly on information and its dissemination and with it the barriers to enlightenment of oneself and the larger world beyond the boundries that have always been imposed.
    Essentially on a spiritual level peole as a individual or collective can mix it up and not be afraid of being shunned by their community or peer group due to their maybe more open minded beiliefs. Where is the repesct for the original religion you ask .....in the same place as age old religious persecution has been for 100's of years -On a plain as Kurt Cobain would say .Just maybe a more tolerant one and of more open surrounds . Anything or ONE that gets people together and encourages them to be happy,tolerant,open,smiling and not afraid ,sad,guilty,remorseful,self loathing ,fanatical,judgemental...... gets my sympathy and support.
    p.s Divali is celebrated in style on Chinese New year as it is on Guy Fawkes Day ...just not by dogs and cats.

  2. I dont think it is appropirate or acceptable for non-Hindus to take a Hindu festival and re-define it, no matter how global culture and the world has become. And nothing can excuse that. Yes maybe Holi got people together but the real message is being distorted in the process. Further, any person can organise an event of the celebration of colour and unity. That is fine. Just remove the word "Holi" from the event. It is, in contrast with the event, a religious occasion. Hindu people do not observe religious festival while consuming alcohol. Are you telling me that no alcohol was served during the Holi One colour festival?? I think there was. This is disrespectful.

  3. You know I never really thought about this - and I think you are absolutely right! Also they had these festivals through out the year if I'm not mistaken. I'm sure loads of Hindus bought tickets too. I believe that sometimes we need to draw a line somewhere . Also what are your thoughts on the Zapiro cartoon - http://bigthink.com/against-the-new-taboo/religious-organisations-should-learn-what-respect-actually-looks-like