KARACHI: The colours will wash off in three to four days, but the joyful memories created by members of the Hindu community at the Holi festival celebrated here on Tuesday should provide enough happiness for a whole year.
The vendors selling colour powder, plastic spray and squeeze bottles, water guns and pistols just inside the open Shri Swaminarayan Mandir gates here were doing a roaring trade as were the ones selling rose garlands, dried coconut, popcorn, incense sticks and chunris.
“The flowers, coconut, popcorn and incense is for pooja, but the colour and other stuff is for the fun that is to follow,” said Anil Kumar, one of the vendors, as temple bells rang in the background.
“Two hundred and fifty grams of colour powder is for Rs100,” announced Suresh Kumar standing behind his cart. “I run a shop in Ranchhore Lines. But this is the day that I do real business and make some money,” he smiled not willing to negotiate on his prices.
But his neighbour, Anil, said he was selling the same colour for Rs80 per 250 grams. “And for poor folk I will go down to half price,” he said. “Everyone deserves to enjoy this day.”
Meanwhile, all agreed that the most popular colours selling were red, pink and green. “They are selling synthetic colours here so they don’t wash off that easily as the natural red colour of gulal, which goes away in half an hour,” said a young buyer, Sheetal, whose cheeks were already stained pink and purple.
On the ground just behind the temple, preparations were under way for setting the Holi Mata ablaze. A tower resembling a Red Indian tepee made of logs covered with a chunri awaited being torched during the Holi pooja. As little children chased one another with water guns full of different colours, Nand Lal, a resident of the area and president of the Swami Narayan Sewa Mandal committee, explained the tradition of celebrating Holi and the story behind it.
“I lived in Ramaswami earlier, but have been living here and celebrating Holi, Diwali and all other significant days in our calendar here for the past 55 years. I am 79 today,” he said proudly.
“People from all over Karachi come to this ground every year to celebrate Holi,” said Veena A. Malani, who had come from Garden.
As the time for pooja and aarti approached, more children and even some elders mixed their colour powder with water to fill up their bottles, water pistols, and spray pumps. They spared no one as loud music played in the background. Later, the music stopped as the bhajans started.
Several young women in traditional red bridal saris were also seen arriving for the aarti as were parents with little babies. “The brides are not newly-weds. They are those women who got married this year and this is their first Holi after their wedding. They and the babies whose first Holi this is circle the Holi Mata seven times for good luck,” explained Teja Bai, an elderly devotee.
An old woman watched from afar trying not to get drenched in colour. “I am past celebrating at my age. It is my children and their children’s time to enjoy such festivals,” the woman, who introduced herself as Devi, said quietly.
“Each colour here represents something. For instance, red is the colour of happiness, green the colour of prosperity, yellow is for hope and longing, blue represents the sky and the ocean and so on. So altogether all the seven colours of the spectrum represent life,” observed Dr Suresh Kumar, a professor of pathology at the Dow University of Health Sciences, who was also present on the occasion and trying to capture the festive spirit in his camera.
For the first time there was also police presence in the area. “We are some 25 jawans providing security around here,” said Sub-Inspector Badar Rasheed. “We have been told that pretty soon this place will be jam-packed, but we are keeping our eyes open for anyone suspicious, especially people carrying big bags,” he said. Asked if he was okay with his uniform receiving splashes of colour, the SI laughed: “Well, that’s expected, isn’t it?”