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The colourful faces and celebrations of Holi in Umerkot

Updated Mar 17, 2017 09:54am

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.

Kirshna, along with her parents, came from India to celebrate Holi in Pakistan.
Kirshna, along with her parents, came from India to celebrate Holi in Pakistan.

Usha rubbing gulal on her friend Kirshna.
Usha rubbing gulal on her friend Kirshna.

Gulal in a girl's hands.
Gulal in a girl's hands.

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.

Shagan Lal posing with his group.
Shagan Lal posing with his group.
Every corner of the town celebrated the festival by dancing to the dandia.
Every corner of the town celebrated the festival by dancing to the dandia.

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.

A Hindu boy wearing the national dress, waving the Pakistani flag during a theater performance on religious harmony.
A Hindu boy wearing the national dress, waving the Pakistani flag during a theater performance on religious harmony.

It's easy to see why Holi is a fun event for kids.
It's easy to see why Holi is a fun event for kids.

Holi brings out smiles on everyone's faces.
Holi brings out smiles on everyone's faces.

A shy-looking guy stops for a photo.
A shy-looking guy stops for a photo.

Shewaram recently got married and it's his first Holi since.
Shewaram recently got married and it's his first Holi since.

There is some extra powder for Shewaram.
There is some extra powder for Shewaram.

Another face with a wide smile.
Another face with a wide smile.

The district government had made arrangements for the water.
The district government had made arrangements for the water.

A large crowd came out at the Rama Pir Chowk to celebrate together.
A large crowd came out at the Rama Pir Chowk to celebrate together.
Everyone was in good spirits at the Chowk.
Everyone was in good spirits at the Chowk.

Selfies are a must at every gathering no matter what the occasion.
Selfies are a must at every gathering no matter what the occasion.

Maharaj does Arti Pooja.
Maharaj does Arti Pooja.

Fire on Holi is symbolic of victory of good over evil.
Fire on Holi is symbolic of victory of good over evil.


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All photos by the author.