Celebrating Holi

A post by Charlotte Spink, (Learning Coordinator), Poorva Batra and Kai

On Saturday 11 March the Oriental Museum celebrated the Indian festival of Holi. This year the weather was against us: freezing temperatures, snow and ice blanketed Durham, but we did not let that prevent us from hosting a wonderful indoor event, full of the joys of spring with musical performances, art activities and a retelling of the classic story of Prahlad and Holika.

Museum staff worked alongside Durham University student volunteers to deliver the event and I’d like to introduce to two of them here.

Durham University Bollywood Dance Society teaching dance moves to attendees

Hello! My name is Poorva Batra, and I am pursuing an MA in Archaeology (ENEA). Holi, also known as the festival of colours, is a significant celebration in India that marks the arrival of spring. It is a festival celebrated with great fervour, and people of all ages and religions come together to rejoice in its festivities. It holds great cultural and religious significance, and is a time of joy, merriment, and unity.

The festival of Holi also signifies the triumph of good over evil. It celebrates Lord Vishnu’s victory over the demon king Hiranyakashipu, who threatened to destroy the world. Additionally, the festival commemorates the love and devotion between Lord Krishna and Radha and is celebrated as a time of love, friendship, and forgiveness. Holi is a time for renewal, rejuvenation, and community spirit and is deeply embedded in Indian culture, celebrated with great enthusiasm and joy across the country.

As this is my first year away from home, I missed the festive atmosphere that surrounds Holi. Therefore, when I learned about the volunteering opportunity for the Holi festival at Oriental Museum, I accepted the offer without hesitation, and I was delighted to contribute to such a fantastic event.

On the day I applied mehndi, a traditional form of body art, to the hands of visitors. Mehndi has been practiced for thousands of years in many cultures, including India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. The paste used is made from dried leaves of the henna plant and is applied to the hands and feet. Mehndi holds great cultural and religious significance and is primarily a form of beauty and self-expression. It can be applied in a variety of styles and designs, from traditional patterns to more modern and abstract designs.

Student volunteers painting mehndi, an ancient form of Indian body art, on a visitors hand

It was a wonderful experience interacting with the visitors and educating them about the festival’s importance. I enjoyed the event thoroughly. Overall, volunteering at Holi festival was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it. In this blog, I have shared some of my observations and insights from the event, and I hope that it will inspire others to participate in similar cultural celebrations and events in their communities.

Kai, over to you… Hiya, I’m Kai. I’m a Museum and Artefact Studies student at Durham University. Naturally I want to get involved with as many museum-based activities as possible so I decided to give volunteering at Holi a go.

On the day, I spent most of my time the classroom doing woodblock printing and Rangoli. I showed the children and their adults how to use the woodblock prints with the colourful paints, and how to colour and stick rice and flowers on the Rangoli sheets. I also had a short spontaneous stint in the facepainting area, which I think is where I produced my best work.

My favourite part of the day was helping the younger children with their woodblock prints. I think it was usually a new experience for them and they came with different levels of confidence and chattiness. Some of them nattered away non-stop, while others just pointed at what colours or patterns they wanted while I did the talking. No matter what though, we worked together in different ways to create their masterpieces and I had so much fun. And, I even made a couple of my own woodblock prints to stick on the fridge.

 Holi-inspired woodblock print on fridge door

In the end, despite the weather, over 300 people attended Holi Festival. It really is our wonderful student volunteers that help make these events, and Durham, such a great place to be.

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