Saturday, June 11, 2011

Color, Kinetics, Kin

Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple (Spanish Fork, Utah)
 This week's article contributed by guest writer, Gloria Gardner Murdock.

An electromagnetic field in Utah’s Spanish Fork drew in 50,000 revelers – reported as predominantly LDS college students – in celebration of the Hindu Festival of Color, known as Holi, March 24-25, 2011.

Jessica, age 33, learned about the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple’s event from friends in the Seattle area where she lives, and decided to share the fun with her newly married younger sister, Shairstin, in Sandy, UT and their returned missionary brother, Brett, who attends BYU.

Shairstin and Jessica
The two girls and I met for a visit to their 91-year-old grandmother (who is also my mother) just before they headed to the airport for Jessica’s flight out. Interlaced with other talk, stories of Holi soon dominated, delighting Mom in the process.

Shairstin and Brett
Jess reported 30,000 were expected in the field outside the temple, yet the temple website reports that 50,000 (just a few thousand less than the entire population of Wyoming’s capital city, Cheyenne, I calculate) turned out for the two-day event. She said most there seemed to be from BYU (they were also from UVU, and Spanish Fork), but they met one guy who had driven in from New York.

Did participants seem local only because my nieces were seeing with “White” and maybe “Mormon” eyes? Any who seemed to be of color seemed to stay near the temple, not in the fields, they reported. Yet I remembered that a Korean student in her 20s who lived with me for a few months had attended two years back, and Keiko, my current roommate (age 19) from Japan, was there the same day as my family – and fair Larissa (22) from Brazil was there with her BYU boyfriend, I learned at school the next day. But alas, Keiko and Larissa also reported people were mostly White.

“But we all looked the same brown chalky color after a while,” Jess said. “It was like a bad spray-on tan!”

White faces, white clothes – but only on arrival. 

Burstings of color lifted every two hours into a cloud that Keiko described in retrospect as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bomb effect. 

Hard to breathe! The leader yelled out PINK! YELLOW! ORANGE!! And each time, people flung a partial or entire $2 bag upward. 

U of U student, Truman, Keiko’s companion at the event, told her this was the only place she would see Americans wear filtration masks. (He was admonished to wear them in Okyama, Japan when there teaching English.) Some people wore goggles, others wore full-face gas masks; some plopped their cameras in clear plastic bags to use them safely.

Shairstin said that with all the peltings, the only things white in the end were teeth and eyes.

One couple in their mid-thirties--representative of the older set--wore wedding garb. Wedding dress and white tuxedo! Keiko, an aspiring fashion designer, sparkled as we marveled at what it could mean to them. Lots of young kids were there; and Keiko wished older people had attended too. 

My family didn’t enter the temple, not wanting to track in the muss of color. But Keiko and Truman went in near the first of their visit – deciding to ‘pass’ on the curry, the food area messy after one of the color throws. At the door, they were asked to remove shoes, and then have their clothes brushed down. At the center of the crowd inside was a dance group: Indian-looking men in front-buttoned, knee-length decorative shirts, also wearing pants and ‘jeweled’ box-caps; long-haired Indian women in blue jeans and white tee-shirts, wearing be-coined, bright sashes. Though Indian, they looked to her U.S. born as they “belly-danced” with free-style moves to Americanized sounds.  

“We didn’t get an Indian feeling anywhere,” she reflected – wanting the Indian culture to come across more intensely. 

Curry gone American
Sandalwood gone chemical dye-foul (and yet, this was imported from India)
Smells of rural Utah wafting in with the wind

Perhaps it was because the bands and the dancers were local – an intentional choice – and changed to another group each hour. Perhaps only Americans would be so brash as to throw colors at faces, and at unauthorized times? But that is not to say any of this spoiled her good time! People were “crazy, like portrayals of Italian soccer games I have seen on TV.” And In the end, everyone “looked like Zombies from Michael Jackson’s Thriller.”

In the car visor, Keiko saw herself as some teenager, way too excited about wearing makeup. Her blue-eyed friend “looked creepy with his green face;” and after wiping most of the green off, came across as man in eye-shadow, which made them laugh and they both left the color on. Afterwards, at the 4th South Café Rio in SLC, they fielded questions from knowing people of varying ages asking about the festival. 

Meanwhile, back to the action for my family, the Gardners. 

Amidst the bunching of bodies, Brett talked Shairstin, a former cheerleader, into “crowd surfing,” which seemed agreeable until one of her shoes was “ripped off” and thrown, after about 10 seconds. Brett and Jess bolted after it while Shairstin found her way down into the glop of that cold, muddy ground. Atop the band’s gazebo, shoes were being tossed. Jess found one on the ground that was close to the right size, but thought better of taking it back, since Shairstin would be particular. 

They reported back, finding Shairstin cold and ready for ANY shoe near her size. As Brett wound his way to the gazebo, a shoe came streaming through the air, landing 10 feet away. Looked good enough. Wonder of wonders, it was the exact match! “He put it on me like I was Cinderella,” she said. 

Because there was a one-hour shuttle wait, they popped into a Spanish Fork restaurant. While in the restroom, Jess realized she had totaled her bra, and probably most of her other clothes, and could only smoosh the color around on her face when it wouldn’t come off. Still, she was at table before Brett came out looking for her; he gave up and sat at an adjacent table, waiting while she laughed. 

“It kinda made you think, if we were all of one color, this is what it would be like,” Jess had said earlier, not referring to being overlooked.

Larissa, who was in a group of BYU roomies and friends of her boyfriend, laughed at the irony of the Hare Krishna mantras in Kirtan-style singing, which is call-and-response. Everyone was mesmerized by the devotional chants about “the sky, the clouds, and all that God created.” The irony being that some of it was in Sanscrit and unknown to them. Jess had also laughed, thinking they could be devotedly saying anything, but loving it nonetheless. 

Lord Krishna
Kirtan, in Sanscrit, means “to repeat.” I spent four months in the state of Kerala, near India’s southern tip, teaching English for nurses who were housed at Bhaskara, a school of the temple arts. On occasion, I would go to the hall and join in the 5 a.m. Carnatic chants and know bliss. Repetition is not about meaning so much as it is vibrational preparation for reaching the still point of spirit that comes in meditation and prayer. I find it in full accord with my own LDS ways of knowing the Spirit: through vibrational unity. 

The major mantra: (from the temple’s website)

"Krishna" is a non sectarian name for the Supreme which means "All Attractive." "Rama" is another name for God, which means "Highest Pleasure Absolute." "Hare" is an invocative term, a way of addressing the Lord.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna 

Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
The timing and sensations of Holi celebrate Spring’s bursting sovereignty over the long, gray winter. Beyond that, two Hindu legends give impetus for Holi’s existence: 

  1. The child-burning demoness, Holika, immune to any damage by fire for herself, acted in direct opposition to the gods and was therefore destroyed by fire after divine intervention made it possible. The Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple therefore burns her in effigy in a bonfire at the event’s opening each year.  
  2. According to Northern Indian views, the festival celebrates the solemnization of love between Radha and Krishna.
Krishna and Radha
 Wikipedia states
Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the gopis here. Krishna is believed to have complained to his mother about the contrast between his dark skin complexion and Radha's (Shakti or energy that drives the world) fair skin complexion. Krishna's mother decided to apply colour to Radha's face. The celebrations officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love. 
In this way, the Festival of Colors summons the idea of Krishna in his pranks, his love sport with the gopis, the young women of his time – most prominent of whom was Radha – and the prank on Krishna when his mother darkens Radha’s skin. Krishna, who is variously seen as Hindu deity or hero, and who is depicted in art as “dark” or deep blue, comes together in love that is spiritual, beyond sexuality, with his childhood friend and lover, Radha the fair. It is this union that some Hindu traditions say constitutes “absolute truth.” (Wikipedia) 

Perhaps absolute truth, socially, is when we borrow and blend and jumble and adapt and yet become more ourselves in the mix. For example, a friend from France says she has never felt more French than she does here in the USA, yet she married an American and deliberately chooses the mix.

Social boundaries and color distinctions faded in the festival; and the Hiroshima cloud, in reports from Keiko and Larissa, became an over-all pinkish hue. Pink – like the blush from blood that burnishes all complexions. We are one family.
It is the vibrating harmony of this spiritual Oneness that brings the ready answer to my question of each I talked with: Would you do this again? Oh, YES! 

I highly recommend the vibrant first-hand report from Utah Valley Review, April 4, 2011, This Page Doesn’t Have Color, but Holi Does, authored by Asia Bates.

See the Krishna Temple's website for information about Llama Fest, July 16, 2011, and other upcoming events. 

1 comment:

  1. While my husband attended the University of Virginia, I had a job as the Family Housing Association president. I primarily planned events for the residents of our two Family Housing apartment complexes. About half of our residents were Indian, so we decided to have a Holi celebration (and use the University to fund it!). It certainly was not on the scale of this event, but it was so much fun to be out with Indians, putting paint on each other's faces, and eating samosas. I really, really miss my Indian friends. Good times.