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Holi Festival where color photography is at its zenith

Published: October 21, 2020

Updated: October 4, 2022

Black and white or color – there is always a debate as to which one is superior. Historically speaking, black and white has the upper hand. But artistically speaking, there seems to be a divergence. The technology, however, didn’t allow people to capture those wonderful colors in the past and as such photos that shaped our history – the devastation of the wars or the graveyards of the famine – were all shot in black and white. Society evolved and much more perhaps the technology and now not just the harsh reality but the joy and happiness is also portrayed in those pictures. And color photography seems to dominate the industry. Or is it all but a hype, that people seem to have put it on a pedestal?

“Our lives at times seem a study in contrast… love & hate, birth & death, right & wrong… everything seen in absolutes of black & white. Too often we are not aware that it is the shades of grey that add depth & meaning to the starkness of those extremes.”

The Story behind Holi Festival

Holi Festival also known as festival of color, festival of love as well as spring festival is one of the occasions where man woman and children embrace themselves in a spectacular display of colors. Every spring, people across India and around the world celebrate the Hindu festival Holi, throwing colored water and powders on one another in joyous celebration. On this day—the full-moon day of the Hindu month of Phalguna—societal rankings such as caste, gender, age, and status are eschewed in the spirit of making merry together, and everyone is fair game to be doused with color.

From legends we come know that Holi Festival was originally a ceremony for married women to spread prosperity and goodwill on their new family. Since then, the festival has evolved to encompass much more. Now, one of the main focuses of the Holi Festival is a celebration of the victory of good over evil.

Holi traditions, however, vary throughout the country while having their roots in Indian mythology. In many places the festival is associated with the legend of Hiranyakashipu, a demon king in ancient India. Legend has it that he claimed to be immortal and demanded to be worshipped as a god. His son Prahlad was deeply devoted to worshipping the Hindu deity Vishnu, and Hiranyakashipu was angry that his son worshipped this god over him. He enlisted the help of his sister, Holika, to kill his son, Prahlada. In an attempt to burn Prahlada, Holika sat with him on a pyre while wearing a cloak that protected her from the fire. But the cloak protected Prahlada instead, and Holika burned. According to the story, the Lord Vishnu appeared as half-lion and half-man, and killed Hiranyakashipu. In that way, good, conquered evil. In many places in India, a large pyre is lit on the night before Holi to celebrate this occasion.

Another story tied to the Holi Festival is that of Radha and Krishna. Krishna is said to have blue skin because as legend has it, he drank poisonous milk from a demon when he was a baby. The story goes that Krishna, a Hindu deity who is considered a manifestation of Vishnu, fell in love with the milkmaid Radha, but he was embarrassed that his skin was dark blue and hers fair. In order to rectify this, he playfully colored her face during a game with her and the other milkmaids. This is thought to be an origin of the colored water and powder throwing. On Holi Festival, participants apply color to each other’s skin in honor of Krishna and Radha.

No religion makes more use of color than Hinduism, with its blue-skinned gods and peony-lipped goddesses, and even the spring festival of Holi is focused on color Boys squirt arcs of dyed water on passersby or dump powder, all violently hued, on their marks

What Is Holi Celebrated for?

Holi is a Hindu festival that has been celebrated since ancient times. The Holi Festival is celebrated to welcome Spring and is seen as a new beginning where people can release all their inhibitions and start fresh. It is said that during the Holi Festival, the gods turn a blind eye, and it’s one of the few times even extremely devout Hindus allow themselves to let loose. They open up and enjoy each other’s company, take time to dance and party, and throw their cultural norms to the side. On the first day of the festival, a bonfire is lit to symbolically burn away all the bad and give way to a colorful and vibrant new future.

At the Holi Festival, participants throw powder dye into the air, covering all in attendance with vibrant colors. During this time, men women and children all come together to mark this occasion, to build bridges bringing down barriers with spectacular display of colors and fun. In a religious sense, the colors are rich with symbolism and have multiple meanings: they can mean a vibrant new life and even represent sin in a way. For some, washing off the dye at the end of the day can mean new commitment to live well, as cleansing oneself of evils and demons.

And here is what Wikipedia tells us about it:

Holi celebrates the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love, and for many it’s a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair broken relationships. The festival also celebrates the beginning of a good spring harvest season.

In black and white, there are more colors than color photography, because you are not blocked by any colors so you can use your experiences, your knowledge, and your fantasy, to put colors into black and white.

These vibrant Holi colors are so lively and rich that it can lift your mood immediately. I had a few occasions to celebrate this Holi Festival in Bangladesh where joy, fun, craze, excitement, pigments, water, music, men, women and children all get mixed into a huge bucket of fun! If you’re a photographer, on the other hand, it becomes a big challenge sometimes as it had for me while I was trying to protect my camera in the middle of all this craze.

The cameras were wrapped in plastic to be protected from the water flying all over. Weather shielding was for the high-end versions, but my camera didn’t have it and all I was left with is to maintain a certain distance from those monsters (i.e., the kids) with the air pump in their hands filled with dyed water ready to shoot at whoever comes in front of them!

The photos were taken in the capital city of Dhaka. One of the craziest aspects of this celebration is the enthusiasm of the locals who have been faithfully organizing this event for years. The locals are so excited about it that they prepare for this occasion for days.

Working in black and white makes me feel like a painter, not a photographer. Shooting this way allows me to focus my attention on the light and shade, textures, shapes, and expressions. It’s really a matter of personal choice, but in my opinion, black and white can lead to a more abstract reading of reality, which is arguably more demanding and more challenging to produce. Here photographers cannot use flattering colors or colored light to distract the eye. You cannot cheat in black and white.

So, on this day people forget the wounds and forgive each other and embrace everyone with arms wide open to share the joy. Ever since I came to Australia this is one of the events, I still miss every year. Although colorrun simulates the environment to some degree I still hope that there will be more participation and fun for these events, if not just as much as it happens in Indian subcontinent.

So, in essence, A bucket of fun mixed with the pure and raw energies of life is what we call festival of color. The young and the old, the rich and the poor, the abled and the disabled – it brings everyone to the same place and without distinction it offers them all the same pleasures and fun that nobody can wait to get enough of.

The fun and excitement start early in the morning. As people wake up, they rush to the streets with water and pigments. The shops prepare for days for this event piling up a huge stock of the pigments. They fill their shelves with powders of different colors – blue, yellow, purple, red, crimson. The music is played at the loudest and the fun begins. The kids, the elders, the moms and the dads all come out of their homes and start singing and dancing. Their eyes, teeth, hands, feet, nose and cheeks – all have different colors – in a short while. They look like aliens descended to this earth only for this day. The fun continues – from the dawn of the day till the dusk until everyone is exhausted – fully.

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