For some reason the moon seems bigger and fuller tonight. So close, it seems you could just reach out and touch it. The bright orb hanging low in the sky lights the surrounds in a cool blue hinting at the festivities ahead. We, dressed in our Indian finery, arrived at the Palace to join the distinguished crowd, all eagerly awaiting the evening’s events. The Palace is aglow with a million lights and candles, awash with colorful flowers, intoxicating swirls of incense tickling the nose, while exotic musical notes completed the sensory overload. The air is warm, the sky brilliantly clear, covered in stars, as if in an open competition with the palace grounds below.
The music intensifies and the royal procession enters the palace: guards, horsemen, entourage, and finally in an elegant, antique automobile, the Maharajah of Udaipur himself. Holi, or the Festival of Colors, takes place on the full moon in late February or early March celebrating the arrival of spring. Days before the festival, piles of wood are collected and stacked into elaborate pyres. Theses piles are then burned the night before the full moon, symbolizing the burning of the devil-minded “Holika”, sister of the demon king. Legend also has it that the dark faced Vishnu was jealous of his lover Radha’s fair skin, playfully covering her with pigments. (This year Holi falls on March 11th).
After a lengthy introduction, the celebration begins. The large pyre is lighted, and a flurry of dancers in extravagant costume, begin an ever increasingly frenzied dance. As the tempo and volume slowly increase, so does the amplitude and rhythm of the dance, until the entire movement is a blur of fabric and extremities, fire and humanity entwined in a whirlwind of exuberance. Exhausted, the dancers, royals, and us proletariat, retire to another courtyard for dinner and drinks. The dinner is a buffet that stretches across the length of the entire piazza, food of every shape, color, and size, beautifully displayed, meticulously served, and entirely unpalatable for either me or my husband. Alcohol, normally a rarity in India, flows freely. My husband, eagerly pillaging the Maharajah’s cognac, was now fast friends with the local camel merchant, both deeply entrenched in a boisterous conversation neither could understand. Looking over the parapet, I could see the fires burning throughout the city, the billowing smoke and sounds wafting upwards combining into a wonderful rue of happiness. The festivities lasted long into the night, giving absolutely no hint of the carnage to come the next morning.
at 10:17 AM