Holi Celebrations in Mumbai by Melanie Wattenbarger

Being an international researcher in Mumbai certainly has its challenges, especially having shifted my entire family to join me here. That being said, we are incredibly grateful for the local people who have welcomed us into their lives.

Melanie 2This week was the Hindu festival of Holi, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the welcoming of spring after winter. Having watched such films as Outsourced and  Ramleela, my husband and I prepared ourselves with older clothes and containers full of the powdered colors to throw at any sneaky neighbors who may be waiting around the corner to throw water or colors on us. We even gave our children pep talks to be brave, fortify themselves and get ready to throw some colors themselves. They chose their favorite colors, Michael bright pink and Toby bright yellow, and we stepped out of our flat. I could not be more amazed at what happened next.

On our way down the stairs to exit our building, the neighbor below us popped her head out to ask if we were going “to play Holi.” When we responded yes, she excitedly ran back in her flat while we prepared ourselves to gave colors or water thrown on us. She came back out with a huge smile, and gently rubbed rangoli colors on each of our cheeks, wishing us a “Happy Holi.”

Once down stairs, the doorman of our building, soaking wet and covered in purple, asked if we had come to play Holi as well. When we said yes, he asked if he could play with us. My husband held out his bowl of deep green rangoli. Our doorman rubbed the green on Jordan’s face and head then heartily clapped him on the back with a huge bear hug.


I shouldn’t have been so surprised the reality of our Holi celebrations were much more tame than what is shown in the movies. Granted, we could have paid for that experience and gone to a Holi party on Juhu beach with professional DJs or paid for a slum tour and throwing of the colors in Dharavi to experience the movie-like celebrations. Yet,  we did not want a contrived spectacle. We wanted to celebrate with our neighbors and the students at the University of Mumbai.

The welcome we have had from locals to participate in customs and celebrations that are unlike our own has been incredible. Whether it was attending poojas for the Ganpati celebrations, visiting with the local goats assembled for Eid, or this year’s playing Holi, our neighbors have been incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic to share their lives and beliefs with our family. Now, three days later with our faces and fair hair still stained purple, green and pink, we are would like to wish everyone a Happy Holi!


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