Holi in Bangladesh

For those of you familiar with the holiday Holi, it may come as a surprise to see a post about Holi, a Hindu holiday, in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim country. The number of Hindus in Bangladesh has declined significantly since the country’s independence, but given a total country population, of 170 million, there still remain between 15 and 20 million Hindus. And that’s still plenty of people to throw a party.

Holi is

is a popular Hindu festival often referred to as the Festival of Colors, Love and Spring. Its origins are linked to Hindu gods, celebrating the eternal love of Radha and Krishna, as well as signifying the triumph of good over evil, commemorating the victory of Vishnu over Hiranyakashipu.  Falling in mid-March on the Gregorian calendar, it is a two-day celebration starting with bonfires, singing and dancing the evening before, followed by the spraying of brightly colored water and the smearing of brightly colored powders the next day.

Given the low percentage of Hindus in a crowded city like Dhaka, the celebration is limited to small pockets or neighborhoods in the city with high Hindu concentrations. After some research, we made our way to Shankali Bazar, a street in Old Dhaka, where we found the party raging.

Me, toward the end of our photo shoot, at the end of the street. Would they let me leave? I wasn’t completely sure…but it turned out alright.

Initially we weren’t sure we’d be able to get in – both ends of the street were barricaded with bamboo poles and there were grim-looking police guarding the entrance. But we had no issues and made our way in, cameras carefully protected with plastic covers, as we knew we would not be spared just because we were outsiders.

Instead, we were greeted with welcoming smiles and immediately “anointed” with colors as the locals pointed out that we were “looking too fresh”! Kids were armed with spray bottles of colored water and adults carried packets of brightly colored powders that were being sold along the street. To add to the chaos, folks leaning out of their windows or standing on rooftops regularly dumped water on the partygoers below. It didn’t take long until we looked just like everyone else.

Toward the middle of the street, there was a party raging. Huge banks of speakers, covered in protective plastic, surrounded groups of people dancing as bursts of water occasionally plummeted from above. Here’s a video from the heart of the action:

Fortunately, we wore suitable clothes for the occasion, and we were quite the spectacle as we drove home afterward. But one thing we hadn’t anticipated: Some of the colors were a bit more permanent than we had anticipated. It took a few days before I was able to get all of the purple (I suspect it was ink) off my face and ears. But my partner in crime has lighter hair with blond highlights. She, unfortunately, had to spend the next week or two with a hairstyle that included green, pink, and blue “highlights.” There were a few jokes at work the next day…but honestly? I think some folks were jealous they had missed out on the fun!

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