White-Washing the Festival of Colors


Holi is celebrated across the world as an event that praises the triumph of good over evil. The festival emphasizes friendship, love and equality–or bridging of social gaps/castes.

Here’s a video of NYC Bhangra’s Holi Hai celerbration: https://vimeo.com/121439279

Holi stems from the story of Prahlada and his father, King Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada held the God Vishnu as the most high and preached about him to others. After failed attempts to persuade the child to cease reverence for Vishnu, the King resorted to physical harm.

One of these punishments forced Prahlada and his sister, Holika, to sit upon a burning pyre. Holika, from whom the festival owes its name, was killed by the flames. However, Prahlada chanted Vishnu’s name and survived the fire due to his unfailing devotion to the Hindu god. Thus the night before Holi, people gather around a large bonfire.

Though the “festival of colors” or “festival of love” is primarily observed in India during the spring, the celebration has become increasingly popular outside of South Asia and among people uninvolved in the Hindu faith. The celebration draws people from many different backgrounds to engage in the playful tossing of colorful dyes and blasting of dyes from water-guns.

slide11As an event with deep religious and social significance, Holi’s celebration outside of the Hindu realm of
observation invokes cultural appropriation. Some manifestations of the festival, specifically the throwing of colorful powders onto other people, have become commercialized as wholly unrecognizable imitations. The article
“Dye-ing Culture: Color Run, White-Washing Holi Since 2012” on browngirlmagazine.com criticizes the trendy Color Run as an appropriation of the Indian holiday.

Here is a link to the The Color Run’s 2015 promotional video.

The article on browngirlmagazine.com argues that the profitable 5K even completely ignores the clear reproduction of Holi, “and to add insult to injury, they’ve trademarked our tradition.” There’s no mention of desi culture on the run’s website nor indication that the idea may have stemmed from the age-old festival. The author of the “Dye-ing Culture” article ridicules this appropriation as “white-washing” (punny!).

The culture, tradition and meaning of the festival is completely stripped by this money-making party. Worse, the event–with its increasing popularity–diminishes the actual celebrations of Holi, which have become more and more common in diversified communities and on campuses devoted to observing more traditions. Holi is an easy festival to engage people from different backgrounds. It preaches love and the celebration of Spring, all while allowing people to have fun tossing beautifully colored dyes on their friends. The further dilution of the celebration by separating the physical manifestation from the deep cultural meaning insults the desi culture and Hindu tradition.

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One thought on “White-Washing the Festival of Colors

  1. Wow! I had no idea that color runs were a form of appropriation. It’s frustrating because cultural appropriation could be stopped easily by education. Vast teachings on cultures in curriculums would instill a sense of respect in people. Because of that respect, it would be a lot more difficult to culturally appropriate and potentially offend communities.


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