CHAPEL HILL, NC — Throwing multi-colored powder into the air and onto each other, thousands of UNC students gathered at Hooker Fields last Friday for an observance of Holi, the ancient Hindu springtime festival of love, forgiveness, and new profile pictures.
“We try to keep our event inclusive but also very true to the spirit of the Hindu holiday,” said senior Anna Ridge, “Holi Moli” event coordinator. “For thousands of years in India, everyone from common villagers to Brahman has gathered in public places on Holi to bid farewell to winter, open their arms joyfully to each other, and pose for, as it’s translated from the ancient Sanskrit, ‘the kind of no-filter selfies that can turn even a Pinterest pariah into a social media superstar.'”
“Of course, something is bound to be lost in translation, but we like to think our celebration pays respect to cultural tradition by keeping the same focus,” she said.
According to UNC religious studies professor Tark Matthews, Holi’s origin lies in the symbolic legend of Holika, the evil sister of demon king Hiranyakashipu, who launched a Twitter account so popular that she thought she might soon rival even Vishnu in her number of followers.
“Holika grew arrogant, instigating a Twitter feud with Vishnu the likes of which had never been seen by man or god,” said Matthews.
He continued, saying Holika’s good nephew, Prahlada, who retweeted only Vishnu, tricked the Holika into her demise by making an anonymous gmail account and sending pictures of Vishnu with his body covered in garish bright pigments, saying that “Vishnu was SUPER embarrassed of them and did NOT want them spread around.”
Blinded by avarice, Holika publicized the photos on all her social media platforms, and people everywhere immediately praised Vishnu for being “fun,” “artsy,” and “so down-to-earth for the Supreme God of Vaishnavism,” allowing Vishnu to win the feud and forever secure his social media dominance.
Ever since, people have celebrated the demise of Holika and the cunning of Prahlada with the Holi festival, adorning themselves as Vishnu did to take new profile pictures each spring.
Carrboro resident and ascetic Sadhu holy man Gautham Singh said that, in contemporary times, Holi celebrations like the one at UNC serve as a yearly marker of rebirth that can be profoundly meaningful for people from all walks of life.
“Holi is a time for reinvigoration,” he said, “it is a time to shed our winter sadnesses and our profile pictures from ski trips and basketball games, replacing them instead with colorful outlooks and profile pictures that can last the whole year round.”
“And get seriously, like one hundred likes,” he added, “#popular.”
Next week, many UNC students are expected to observe Easter, the Christian celebration of marshmallow Peeps and having dinner with your family.