“You’re throwing away the crud that accumulates in your heart and your mind over the winter,” Associate Dean Vereene Parnell explained to hundreds of students as they began Wheaton College’s seventh annual celebration of Holi yesterday afternoon. Holi is an annual Hindu religious festival marking the start of spring in which participants pray and hurl brightly colored powders at each other. In Wheaton’s version, she explained, “Throwing the Holi color is about throwing away our misconceptions and our stereotypes and our prejudices about each other.”
The first Holi at Norton, Massachusetts, college featured some 60 participants in 2006. It was founded by Shanita Gopi, a Hindu student in the class of 2007, when she returned inspired by studying in India during her junior year. Though traditionally celebrated by Hindus in February or March, Wheaton schedules its festivities for warmer local weather, on the last day of classes during the spring semester. It’s organized by the student Interfaith Alliance, but the emphasis is hurling colors. Most students begin at Chapel Field in white T-shirts and less than a half-hour later are covered with wild rainbows of powdered dyes and water. Many finish by splashing into the school’s Peacock Pond.
“There was space between people the first year. You could run away,” Parnell says. “Now there’s no escape.”