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India

HOLI FESTIVAL OF COLOR HAS ´SIGNIFICANCE´ FOR CHRISTIANS

Updated: February 27, 1991 05:00 PM GMT
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On March 1, the day after the full moon, most parts of India will celebrate Holi, a festival of color, fun and frolic.

People throng the streets, smearing each other with brightly hued powders or squirting colored water on all within reach.

Marijuana-based "bhang," traditionally eaten or drunk during Holi, releases inhibitions and adds to the carefree mood.

In its bid to inculturate, the Indian Church finds a new meaning in the festival.

"Holi has great significance for Christians, as the Church is increasingly concerned about the integrity of creation," says Jesuit theologian Father S. Arokiasamy of New Delhi´s Vidyajyoti Institute of Religious Studies.

"By absorbing Holi into the Christian festival calendar as the feast of creation, the Church in India can impart faith education on man´s ecological obligations," Father Arokiasamy told UCA News.

Legends have ascribed varied origins to Holi. One speaks of an arrogant king who demanded that his people worship him. Only his young son, Prahladh, dared refuse. Attempts to kill the prince failed.

Finally the king´s sister, Holika, who was immune to fire, sat with the boy in the middle of a huge fire. The prince´s devotion helped him escape unscathed while Holika burned to death.

People prepare huge bonfires on Holi eve and throw grain into the flames in a symbolic commemoration of the event.

"Holi is a religious festival commemorating Lord Krishna´s frolics with the milkmaids," said C.G.R. Kurup, former director of the Government of India´s publication department.

"The festival is an expression of joy and human fellowship," Kurup told UCA News. "Class distinctions are set aside during the celebration," he said.

"Holi celebrates the passage of winter and the advent of spring, and heralds the beginning of a new life cycle in nature," says theologian Father Subhash Anand of the Papal Seminary, Pune.

"Religious myths were attached to the festival as the original meaning faded," he explains in an article in Vidyajyoti, a theological journal.

Holi is known as the "festival of reversals." People from the low castes are free to tease the high castes; village bullies are made to ride a donkey; and senior citizens are bathed in muddy water.

"Christians now join Hindus to celebrate Holi; but once religious sanction is granted they can have their own celebration," said Professor Saral Chatterjee of the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society.

He said he foresees opposition from Hindu fundamentalists if Christians adopt the festival. But, he added, Christians should adopt more Indian traditions to counter the charge by Hindu fundamentalists that Christianity and Indian culture are incompatible.

"Holi resembles Easter in spirit and the Western Carnival in observance," noted Jesuit Father Gispert Sauch, an Indologist and professor at Vidyajyoti. "The passage from death to life in Holi is similar to Christ´s death and Resurrection," he added.

END

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