I just returned from India, where I celebrated Holi festivities as the specially invited guest of the royal family of Jodhpur. I posted my journey on social media and the two comments that I received most often were “wow, amazing pictures!” and “what is Holi?”.
Well, while the beauty of pictures can speak for themselves, to understand Holi one needs to experience it personally. Technically it’s a celebration of friendship, the arrival of spring, and the New Year. But in practice is it a time when, even in the hierarchical Indian society, everyone is equal.
The morning of Holi I dressed in white, feeling like a pure vestal virgin. By days end, I was painted in the most wonderfully vivid colors (magenta, cyan, pantone, vermillion) looking like an Alexander McQueen rainbow creation. The Holi celebration makes for great pictures, no doubt. And dousing your friends, or a total stranger for that matter, in colored powder or water, is great fun. But the true majesty of Holi is the way in which it brings people together from all walks of life in one space, where for that moment everyone is equal.
My experience was very specific. It was the private party of His Highness, the Maharajah of Johpur and his lovely family including the queen, the princess, the prince and his wife, and grandchildren. Although this was technically a royal event, it really had more an air of a Mardi Gras celebration. There was an entourage of household assistants following the royal family with platters of painted flour, nannies watching over the few royal children attending, chefs wearing toques preparing Indian delicacies, local village entertainers drumming, singing and dancing, bartenders serving champagne and a local drink made of hemp — which livened things up, all under a big light magenta tent that filtered the sunlight in a pink glow, in the shadows of the massive Umaid Bhawan Palace, part royal residence and part our luxury hotel (in fact, it was rated the number one hotel in the world by TripAdvisor).
I know this may sound like quite the royal affair but by maharajah standards this was pretty casual and familial. The maharajah and his family were not donning formal gowns or head-to-toe jewels as would be the case for other royal events. On the contrary, everyone was dressed in white, tossing colors at each other. It was as it should be, a celebration of life and friendship for all to enjoy.