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Holi has become one of the well-recognised cultural and religious events across the planet. While the global status it has received might be new, the festival of course has historical significance in South Asia, including what is now Pakistan, where it originated from.
The festival lasts for two days, starting on the Purnima – the day of the full moon – in the month of Phalgun of the Sindhi-Hindu calendar, somewhere between February and March of every year. Holi signifies the victory of good over evil; it also marks the arrival of spring. This year, the date fell on the 12th of March.
Sindh, in particular, sees big Holi celebrations in Pakistan given the important number of Hindus living in the province. The city of Umerkot usually leads from the front, and it was no different this time.
The celebrations lasted an entire week and preparations began days in advance. Shops and businesses closed early so that nobody was late for the festivities.
As I walked through Umerkot’s decorated and well-lit streets, I saw everyone – young and old – dancing and singing. People were throwing gulal (coloured powder) at anyone they could get their hands on, giving the occasion a joyous and vibrant mood. The houses were adorned with rangolies and neighbours shared sweets that they had made at home.
The Pakistani Dandia Group was there to take part in the festival as well. Wearing green shirts and colourful turbans, they played dandia to the beat of the drums. The group has been doing this for several generations and its leader Shagan Lal said to me that these activities are part of their culture and reflect their values.
Umerkot and the Thar desert are known for religious harmony, where Muslims and Hindus participate in each others’ festivals, such as Holi, Diwali, and Eid.
Hundreds of Muslims joined the activities on the first night at the crowded Rama Pir Chowk. I met a Muslim man who had brought along his two sons so that they may learn about Holi and the Hindu community.
He told me that Hindus and Muslims over here always celebrate such festivals without any discrimination and that attending them is always a positive experience. The message was definitely that of harmony and national unity, and scores of Pakistani flags in the crowd were also a sign of that.
I heard community leader Gotam Parkash Bajeer give an address to those gathered. He stressed that this is what freedom of religion looks like: a minority community celebrating its festival openly and freely. He prayed for happiness, peace and love for everyone, which is the message of Holi itself.
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All photos by the author.