Color me bright, sweet me tight!

Color me bright, sweet me tight!

Aylin Öney Tan -
Color me bright, sweet me tight The victory of good over evil! That is the core of the holy Hindu festival of India, the Holi. Famed as the most colorful of all festivals, today is the day to paint the world as bright as possible. This year another spring festival fell almost on the same dates, as the other day it was Purim, the jolliest of all Jewish celebrations. 

Holi started yesterday with Holika bonfires where the devil (Holika) and all the evil powers inside people are expected to be burned away with holy fire. On the next day, everyone is freed from the evil inside and is ready to get loose and enjoy the day without restraint. Celebrated on the full moon day before the spring equinox, the date usually falls in early March, sometimes in late February. Its carnival-like jolliness made the Holi popular with non-Hindus, and it has now even spread to far away countries. The trademark of the festival is shocking bright colors, either in powdered, paste or liquid form. People color their faces with a paste of natural pigments and throw shoots of dry powder pigments or colored water onto each other, turning even the ground to the most messy water fight known to man, with water-guns filled with paint and exploding water-filled balloons. 

Throwing water onto each other is a universal practice in spring celebrations, dating back to Pagan Lupercalia in European festivals. But nowhere in the world is it as colorful as it is in the Hindu Holi. It does not matter whether you are rich or poor, young or old, man or woman, everyone gets a good share of a color or water shot. 

Natural colored powders are called gulal and each color or gulal has its significance: Red for purity, green for vitality, blue for calmness and serenity, yellow for pious dedication. 

Tang of Bhang

One universally known aspect of Holi is its bright colors, but another more locally known aspect of the joyous festival is its association with cannabis. 

For the great masses, Holi is not jolly enough without the tang of bhang, an edible/potable concoction made from the cannabis plant. Leaves and buds of cannabis are ground to a green paste, which forms the basis of the food, sweet, or drink to be prepared. Milk, ghee and spices are added to this mixture. The bhang base is now ready to be made into Bhang Ki Thandai - a potent popular beverage and intoxicating alternative to alcohol - or it can be used in bhang burfi or other sweets. Hindus consider cannabis in association with their foremost deity Shiva. In the ancient text Atharvaveda, bhang is described as a beneficial herb that releases anxiety that is brought to the world by Shiva as a gift to mankind. So in India there is nothing wrong with adding a blob of the dubious green pulp to drinks and sweets, but one should be careful not to overdo bhang binging to avoid a terrible “bhangover” the next day!

Spring festivals are about getting loose, being jolly and celebrating without restraint. Indulging in sweets, the stickier the better, is the surefire way of getting hyper with a punch of sugar crush. It is noteworthy that both Holi and Purim are also identified with sweets. Gujiya, almost a sweet equivalent of samosa, is a fried syrup-soaked delight filled with khoya, nuts and dried fruits, much loved for Holi. Purim is the sweetest of Jewish festivals, while the sweet can vary according to region, from Hamantaschen to pani Purim or sweet sambusak for the Jews of India. 

Pick your colors and have some syrup drenched sweet to enjoy and make wish. Festivals like Holi and Purim help us celebrate the joy of life in this evil world. They are meant to celebrate the victory of good over evil; in today’s troubled world it seems that the colors of Holi might be our only choice to brighten our dreams for a multi-colored-cultured future. My wish is for a big Holika fire to be prepared for all wicked world leaders! 

Bite of the Week

Color of the Week: Synthetic colors are definitely not the best choice for celebrating Holi. Of course, the best would be to go with traditional natural pigments but even natural mineral compounds can be skin irritant, or cause severe hazards if in contact with the eye. There have been cases of malachite green toxicity causing irritations in the eyes. Kama Ayurveda, one of the renowned cosmetic brands of India, produces a line to protect the skin and hair from Holi colors, as well as a line of the most meaningful of Gulan pigments produced by different people. Labeled Kind Holi, gulal are made with flowers gathered from temples before being carefully sorted and picked over by disabled people, dried in shade and grounded to the most beautiful shades of colors. 

Cork of the Week: The other day, I was almost in the twilight zone when flying from Delhi to Istanbul. I still had an appetite for a drink as it was very late at night, but it seemed to be more proper to opt for a tea or masala chai as it was also very early in the morning. Browsing the counter of the lounge, my unconscious choice was a cardamom tea, deliciously infused with spices, creamy smooth with milk. But then the evil in me interrupted and I headed for the booze corner. A good shot of Old Monk Rum fixed the twilight dilemma: a spicy green cardamom chai latte with rum is the key to lift the spirits (and an alternative to the wicked bhang)…