KARACHI: There wasn’t a face without a smudge of rang by the end of the night as worship and prayers late Tuesday made way to welcome the religious spring festival, Holi.
A crowd of nearly 3,000 people gathered at the Swami-Narayan Mandir on Tuesday evening, in the large ground behind the temple’s main building for the Holika Dahan – a bonfire that marks the triumph of good over evil.
A log placed in the centre of the ground, covered with twigs, tree branches and dried leaves, was set on fire as the crowd gathered around it, chanting verses from the Rig Veda to cast off evil spirits and offered milk and fruits to please the gods.
The ash from the fire would be collected by some the next day and smeared on body limbs as a sign of purification.
Hindus from all across the city attended the puja in huge numbers. Some, such as Kantu Bai – a resident of Guru Mandir, even changed several buses to get to the Swami-Narayan Mandir and celebrate with the rest of the community.
“We have a smaller mandir in our area but I like coming here. Today, everyone comes out of their houses regardless of violence and terrorism – it’s a different feeling of unity,” she said.
Mukesh Kumar, who is originally from Mithi, Tharparkar and has been celebrating Holi in Karachi for the past four years, however, has a different opinion. Even though he enjoys the celebrations in the city, he finds them a bit restricted.
“In the rural parts, we are a majority – we can go out and rub colour on anyone’s face. Here, we are a minority so we have to be careful,” he said. “We can celebrate freely inside the mandir but have to think twice before taking such liberty on the streets.”
Let the festivities begin
As the puja came to an end, the crowd was requested to segregate and remain organised. But all rules were forgotten as traditional Bollywood Holi tunes began to blare from the speakers and water guns, laden with different shades of dyes, were unleashed.
As the evening picked momentum, colour was the only means of attacks and defense for everyone, regardless of age and gender. Hushed chants gave way to excited shrieks as young boys and girls raced around and the floor transformed into a kaleidoscope of colours within minutes.
While the battle of colours waged inside, six armed policemen guarded the mandir outside. Despite places of worship being an easy target for terrorist activities, no additional security, such as checking bags, pockets or clothes, were in place.
But nothing daunted the celebrating crowd who vowed to keep up the fun and frolic until the next day.
“Over the years, many people have started celebrating Holi inside their houses due to the security situation. But it is very important for us to come out here and celebrate so that the world can see Hindus and Muslims co-existing in peace,” stated 21-year-old Vinesh Kumar, a resident of Kashkor District, with a somber smile.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2013.