Braj, 2018.03.05 (VT) In the wake of this year’s Holi celebrations, voices are being raised against the commercialization of the festival. Talking about the secular Holi parties that are taking the place of traditional family and neighborhood Holi gatherings, Anjana Bhartia writes,
The moment we make a festival about individual enjoyment, we forget the needs of others, and destroy the spirit of any festival.
The ideal of individual enjoyment is the ideal of the modern-economics-driven-world. While we cannot escape the modern global economy, we can say what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak calls the “impossible no” to the distorted dialogues that make the festival about individual enjoyment.
It is impossible to say ‘no’ in an absolute sense to the commercialization of Holi. Even those who want Holi to remain a traditional, family-temple based festival might not say ‘no’ to tickets to a government sponsored Holi function with the biggest stars in the country. But, we can say the ‘impossible no’ by being on guard against the derailment of Holi and keeping in mind the need for the festival to stay tied to its spiritual roots.
When Holi is promoted as a tourist attraction, it loses some of its beauty – it is no longer celebrated for its own sake but becomes a performance. But, if we take Holi too far away from its spiritual roots, it will lose its attraction, even for tourists.
When widow’s Holi is described by media as an event to ‘raise awareness for the plight of widows’, there is a danger that this dialogue leads us forget the real beauty of the event – that the sisterhood of Vrindavan widows was enabled to celebrate the festival together, in a supportive environment – one of the ancient temples of Vrindavan.
If the widows who traveled to Delhi to present colour pots to the prime minister did so merely as a publicity stunt, the act becomes pointless. For the act to be meaningful, there has to be some belief in goodness, the belief that the widows really do love Prime Minister Modi like a brother.
Festivals are meant to spread joy. That cannot happen if the festivity is not tempered by responsibility.
This year, Holi in Barsana was celebrated in the midst of a huge police presence, outlets for alcohol were shut down and the media was set to work in warning people that harassment and inappropriate behaviour would not be tolerated.
There is no doubt that Holi is becoming fashionable throughout the world – photos of colourful faces have been used in camera advertisements and, everyone knows “Holi, festival of colours”. Only problem is that Holi is not ‘the festival of colours’, it is the ‘festival of Thakurji’s colours’. It is not the celebration of spring, it is the celebration of ‘Thakurji’s spring festival’. If we remember that Holi is not our party, it is Thakurji’s party, we will think 1000 times before using the festival as an excuse to act inappropriately.
The pressure to promote Holi as a secular festival has to be resisted. Even those trapped in a hedonistic way of life seek glimpses of a higher purpose. Millions of people come to see the ‘real’ Holi in Braj every year, where Holi is played with colours that have been offered in temples.