The first weekend of March was the spring festival of Holi. People light bonfires and make a "first fruits" offering from the early wheat crop, as well as throwing little strings of cow-patties into the fires to symbolize all the year's bad deeds that they're renouncing. But mostly it's the "festival of colors", when everybody decorates with bright multicolored designs on houses and floors and clothes and so on.
On Saturday they had an "elephant festival" in one of the Jaipur stadiums. This was mostly set up as an attraction for foreign tourists, but they got lots of locals too. Seven or eight elephants were painted and decorated up to the nines, with colors on their bodies and trunks and sparkly metallic forehead bosses and fancy howdahs and embroidered saddlecloths (good thing Jeremy wasn't there to get ideas!) and I don't know what all. (You can see some pictures at http://erling.typepad.com/erling_thu/2004/03/jaipur_elephant.html.) Some even had pierced ear-flaps with colored banners and streamers fluttering from them. While they paraded around, accompanied by lots of marching bands (an Indian tradition left over from the regimental military bands of the Raj, apparently) and Rajasthani music and dance groups, another elephant named Lakshmi was painting on a big canvas set up in the center, with a brush held in her trunk. It looked pretty good when finished, although I'm not sure I really got the artist's message; but I did notice a long curve on one side that looked very like an elephant's upraised trunk. Hmmmmm.
Then there were elephant races, and a beauty contest for the decorated elephants, and a polo match played on elephant-back. This requires two players per elephant, one to steer and one to hit the ball (with an extra long mallet). Kind of slow, mostly because when a player did manage to hit the ball there were few places for it to go that weren't blocked by an elephant leg. Then a tug-of-war between one of the elephants and about twenty tourists; no contest, the elephant just walked off and dragged the other team along behind. I wonder how many people it *would* take really to put the brakes on a charging elephant! (I know, I know, you just take away its credit card.)
Sunday was Holi itself, the day when everybody puts on their oldest clothes and runs around smearing and splashing and spraying people with colored powders or powder-and-water solutions. An old plastic soda bottle with a hole in the cap makes a fine (though dribbly) squirt with a range of three or four feet, but eventually we all just went hand-to-hand with gobs of color goo. In the end we were all magenta and yellow and green and orange and purple and whatever color combinations they made when they ran into each other, all over. Most of it washes off pretty readily (I seem to finish up a lot of Indian festivals in the shower, don't I?), but I now have a gently psychedelic pink T-shirt that used to be Elena's white T-shirt, plus a pink streak in my hair where my gray streak used to be.
—— Kim Plofker
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