Thursday, February 10, 2011

Festival of color

Raised in a US centric, Christian environment, I did not grow up knowing much about Indian culture or religions. So it may not be surprising that it is only in the last few years that I have become aware of the religious celebration of Holi. I first learned of it listening to NPR (National Public Radio). In that broadcast a commentator living in California spoke of his yearning for the celebration of his homeland and of his discovery of its celebration in California. You can hear it a year later here.
But as a painter, I've been struck by the idea ever since and tonight I found myself wishing I could participate. I love color. It is so interesting from many angles. Worldwide we respond to color differently. For instance in the US brides dress in white where it represents purity but in Japan a bride would not do so as white symbolizes death.
Likewise Disney got into trouble when they first created Disneyland Paris . In the Disney parks in the US purple is a dominate, branding color. Here in the US, it represents creativity and ties into Disney's innovation and ability to create and explore fantasy worlds. However in Europe, the Catholic-centric thinking sees purple as the color of repentance and death. Disney had to redo all of its signage in Paris.
A more universal color is blue. In almost all cultures it is associated with wisdom and spirituality. The association comes from the sky above us. Even our water bodies reflect the skies' heavenly blueness. The qualities we give blue express our longing for spaces we can not dwell only view or visit, yet where we must be unfettered from our physical weight and world realities.
Another color close to universality in translation is red. We associate it with two seemingly opposite things: passion and danger. But when you dig deeper and realize that to our earliest primitive societies red was the blood of dying and the blood of females it makes more sense. Blood red: the beginning and violent end of life. I can just imagine how our ancient ancestors that dwelled in trees and caves viewed red—danger and passion—death and procreation—mystery and desire—end and survival. Still today we hold these associations long past our memories of red's actual living source. Instead red we use for fire engines, stop lights, Santa Claus, devils, and Valentine hearts.
Holi, holy—color and all its meanings. This is the month of color's holy day/holiday. Here is a description from wikipedia—lovely really:
"...Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the gopis here. Krishna is believed to have complained to his mother about the contrast between his dark skin complexion and Radha's (Shakti or energy that drives the world) fair skin complexion. Krishna's mother decided to apply colour to Radha's face. The celebrations officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love."
Apropos for our western celebration of Valentine's Day. Though separated by distance and interpretation, this is our season for celebrating the color of love. I can only imagine how it must be to be covered in color—in life and all its meanings. Perhaps someday I can be where color and all its mixed meanings is celebrated so outwardly!

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