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The Hindu festival of colors: Holi will be celebrated at Walter Reed Bethesda today.

‘Holi’ comes from the word ‘hola’, meaning to offer oblation or prayer to the Almighty as thanksgiving for a good harvest. Holi also celebrates the arrival of Spring: the season of hope and joy. This festival is vibrantly celebrated by throwing colored powder and colored water at each other. The colors are traditionally made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs found commonly in the Indian subcontinent. Wet colors are made with flowers of Palash which produces yellow colored water; believed to be medicinal especially after the winter season.

On the eve of Holi, Hindus observe the burning of Holika (the name means: the one who has conquered death over fire or one who cannot die in a fire.) This is accomplished through bonfires lit in memory of the miraculous escape of young Prahlad whom the Demoness Holika, sister of King Hiranyakashipu, carried into the fire. Holika was burnt but Prahlad lived due to his pure devotion to God.

Holi is celebrated every year to remind people that those who love God shall be saved and they who torture the devotee of God shall be reduced to ashes a la the mythical character Holika. A symbolic fire is lit each year in memory of the victory of good over evil. Hindus say prayers in praise of God and take this opportunity to give up feelings of ill will towards others into the sacred fire. Then the first play of colored water begins in the community.

Dancing, music and general mischievousness are integral to the festivities capturing the theme of love between Lord Krishna (incarnation of God within the Hindu tradition) and his female devotees: the Gopikas. For most Indian Americans this festival can be an emotional, spiritual as well as a cultural expression of traditions rooted in the ancient Vedas and the Puranas (sacred Indian scriptures). As we celebrate Holi by using varied colors it helps us to eradicate the inequalities present in our society and become equals even if it is for a few days. Indeed the message of unity amidst diversity is truly exemplified in the colors of Holi.