BY CASEY ROEPKE '21
On Saturday, April 21, students from the Five Colleges gathered on the Hampshire College Library Lawn to celebrate Holi. Students threw colored powder at one another, soaking their clothing with blue and green and filling the sky with bright plumes of pink and orange. The water gun fights and hoses sprayed festival-goers with plenty of water, ensuring the rainbow of powdered colors saturated the skin of the students themselves.
Holi, a Hindu religious holiday known as the “festival of colors,” is an “ancient festival that marks the beginning of spring, with the first mentions of it dating all the way back to a fourth century poem,” according to CNN. Holi also represents “the triumph of good over evil — symbolism that correlates with the passing of winter,” according to TIME. Although Western Massachusetts experienced an especially long winter this year, the organizers of the event could not have planned for a better day: sunny, high 50s and only the slightest breeze. Most attendants wore shorts and T-shirts, allowing for a concentration of color on their bare arms and legs.
Junoon, the South Asian and International Students Association at Hampshire College, has held a Holi festival for years, but this is the first time they collaborated with another college. The leaders of Junoon reached out to AWAZ, Mount Holyoke’s South Asian Students Association, to attempt to garner an even larger community from the Five Colleges, and also to create bonds between the two cultural organizations.
“There was a different type of energy present this year,” said Moheeb Ahmed, one of Junoon’s chief organizers. Ahmed felt that it was the increased presence of Mount Holyoke students at the festival that shifted the atmosphere from previous years, when more students from UMass, Amherst had attended.
Rafay Mudassar, another Junoon member, added that this year “AWAZ was responsible for [advertising] at Mount Holyoke” as well as ordering colors and food. “The food was the main priority,” said Mudasser.
In the eyes of Amrita Reddy ’20, a member of AWAZ who helped organize the festival, their collaboration was extremely successful. “We hopefully will collaborate again in the future,” said Reddy. “It’s just a fun way to get together and throw a party with all your friends. I had a lot of fun. I think it’s important because it’s a part of our culture and it’s nice to share that with everyone else.”
Some of the students who attended the event were familiar with the significance of Holi, but others, like Sedem Akposoe ’18, were not. “I randomly Googled when it was happening,” Akposoe said, after hearing about the event from her friend, Anushree Bhatia ’18. Bhatia is from India and celebrates Holi at home every year. “I know Hampshire Holi is really big,” she said. “It’s really a festival of brotherhood. It represents that you don’t see color, you forget all past mishappenings, and it’s a fresh start.” Bhatia has experienced many Holi celebrations, but this one “actually [felt] like home.”
Mudasser also has a personal connection with Holi. He grew up in New York and had a very close relationship with South Asian culture. For him, Holi is a way to maintain that connection. “It brings some nostalgia,” he said.
The Mount Holyoke Bhangra team went to Holi as a team bonding event. Halima Blackman ’21, Fatema Uddin ’21, and Allia Jahanbin ’21 all loved the event. “Oh my gosh, I’m mind-blown!” said Jahanbin. She and the Bhangra team joined forces with dancers from the Hampshire Salsa Rueda and Tango Club to teach students how to dance to the music thrumming through the Library Lawn. People of all ages, including small children, ran around throwing colorful powder at friends and strangers alike and enjoying the food provided by AWAZ and Junoon.
“It was so much fun,” Jahanbin said. “I definitely will come for my next three years.”