Holi: The scoop behind the colorful balloons and the mud
Washington University students, numbering in the hundreds, converged on the Swamp on Friday for the event known as Holi, put on by Ashoka, Washington University’s South Asian cultural student group.
Beginning at 3 p.m. and running for the better part of two hours, the event consisted of students flinging almost 20,000 multicolored water balloons at each other and, when the balloons were depleted, engaging in an all-out mud fight.
Holi, celebrated by many South Asian religions, is a festival marking the onset of spring. Traditional rituals and celebrations vary by region, but Ashoka has taken a rather unusual approach. “It’s known as the festival of color, one where everyone just lets loose and gets excited,” said Priya Nagarajan, a junior who is one of the co-cultural chairs of the student group. “Normally they use colored powder, but we just a took a spin off of that and used multicolored water balloons because we thought it would be more fun and muddy.”
The event itself has always been crowded, and this year’s Holi drew over 500 people, more than had attended the event in the past according to Parsa Bastani, a sophomore who is the other co-cultural chair of Ashoka.
“People love it. From what I can tell, everyone seems to have a ball when they’re at Holi, especially when the weather’s good. We were crossing our fingers this time because of the clouds, but we lucked out,” Nagarajan added,.
Students, like freshman Jaime Rosenthal, thoroughly enjoyed themselves at Holi.
“It was ridiculous to just fool around and tackle people in the mud and get that dirty but just not care about it, Rosenthal said.”
Despite its popularity, the public’s view of Holi is rather limited. Most students only see and experience the celebration itself, not the preparation and cleanup. The event requires careful planning by the 12 member executive board, and around 15 others assisted.
“We start planning at the beginning of the spring semester. In January, we start figuring out how to organize it. We have a lot of teams to fill up water balloons because we can’t fill 20,000 balloons on our own,” Nagarajan added.
As an added incentive for filling balloons, Ashoka offers prizes for groups of students that fill the most balloons within a set period of time.
The work continues after the fight, as members of Ashoka have to pick up the Swamp.
“It’s a lot of work. We have to pick up all the balloon remnants, and that took a while, about four hours,” Bastani said.
In addition to removing balloon fragments, Ashoka is responsible for hosing off event participants, cleaning out all utilized multipurpose rooms, emptying trash cans, and collecting all suppiles used for the event.
While the work required to execute Holi is intensive, the event is always well known to students.
“I think that people just know about it. I mean, we do our PR and stuff, like putting up signs, but still people just seem to know about it because it’s a long-standing tradition,” Nagarajan said .
Though Holi is Ashoka’s main event in the spring, it is not all the group is known for. Leading up to the celebration, Ashoka sponsors South Asian Awareness Week and, in the fall, Diwali, the dance performance celebrating the holiday Diwali.
Said Nagarajan, “Diwali might be even bigger than Holi. Holi is pretty big, but Diwali is something more.”