Students of all religions got to experience the Hindu festival of colours
Concordia students welcomed spring with a bang of colour for the Hindu celebration of Holi at the Shree Ramji Temple in Montreal.
Holi, also known as the festival of colours, is traditionally a two-day celebration starting on the first day of the full moon in March, celebrating the arrival of spring. The tradition of throwing vibrant powders at each other is a symbol of the season’s colourful nature. Concordia’s Multi-faith Chaplaincy organized the outing to the temple as part of their monthly Sacred Sites program.
Although the celebration began at 7 p.m., people arrived earlier to place offerings for the gods, which included meals, fruits, flowers and money. Intricate statues of the deities dominated top of the room, with a large canvas of the god Krishna looming above them. The ceremony was led by a pandit, who recited the worship service, the “puja” in Sanskrit. It was a relaxed atmosphere throughout the ceremony, with children playing and worshippers chatting quietly. Some people were dressed casually, while others wore beautiful, colourful saris.
Paras Grover, a Concordia student of Hindu faith, explained that there are several versions of the origin of Holi. He said a common legend tells the story of King Hiranyakashyap, who acquired godly powers by performing various rituals. He declared himself a god, but his son, Prahlad, refuted his claim and continued to worship Vishnu, another god. Angry and offended, Hiranyakashyap called on the help of his sister Holika. Holika was blessed with protection from fire, and Hiranyakashyap convinced Prahlad to sit in a bonfire with Holika. The next morning, while Holika had perished in the fire, Prahlad, protected by Vishnu, was unscathed. It was after this event that people started celebrating Holi to express their happiness of finding the real god in Vishnu, and revealing Hiranyakashyap to be a mere impostor, Grover said.
The night at the temple ended around a bonfire where everyone was smearing each other’s faces with colourful bright powders, and in some cases, throwing them at each other. The symbolism of fire relates back to the history of Holi, representing the burning of evil and the idea of unwavering faith. “In Hinduism, the holiest thing is fire. Fire is purity,” Grover said.
Traditionally, a bonfire is held on the first day of the full moon, while the colour-throwing usually takes place the next day.
Laura Gallo, an interfaith facilitator at Concordia’s Multi-faith Chaplaincy, has been organizing Sacred Sights events like this one for the past seven years. “The idea is that once you know about someone else’s faith, you’re less likely to be prejudiced against them,” Gallo said. The program seeks to introduce people to other religions and to give them an opportunity to learn about them, she said. Past Sacred Sights gatherings included visits to mosques and to a Bahá’í Shrine.
Tanvir Kaur, a recent Concordia graduate who is Sikh, said she decided to attend the event because she is always interested in learning about different religions. “It’s important to learn about every religion so that we have a more open mind,” Kaur said. “You don’t only have to learn about the differences between religions, you can learn a lot about the similarities.”