A festival of colours

Heli Gandi, left, and Tanvi Tailor, right, performed bollywood dance in the celebrations of Holi festival held at the Scarborough Village Community Centre.

Local resident Manish Mehta says he misses ‘real’ celebrations of Holi, Hindu’s popular spring festival.

Based on mythological legend, people in India praise gods’ victory and celebrate the elimination of evils from around the end of February to the end of March each year.

Traditionally, bonfires are lit on the first day of Holi and on the following day, everybody on the street throws different colours of powder and water at each other. It is known as the festival of colour.

When Mehta lived in Gujarat, a state of India, he used to enjoy the traditional bonfires that were located on every intersection of his community. However, since moving three years ago to his new house on Markham Road, he and his family are no longer able to take part in those rituals.

“The size of decorations and enthusiasm among the people are totally different here because our traditional style of celebrations is so limited,” Mehta said. “There is no bonfire.

“There is no coloured powder or water as well.”

To mark the Holi festival on March 22, Bharatiya Seniors Club held a dance and dinner at the Scarborough Village Community Centre, inviting senior members and local residents.

“In Canadian society, we are not allowed to mess up the public place with colours, so our ceremonies are quite restricted,” said Nirmala Sharma, one of the members of BSC. “All we can do is greet each other, celebrating with a feast, dance, and sing.”

The red-coloured holy dots on womens’ foreheads might be the only colour available on that day, she added.

When Jaswant Dhanjal, a singer at the event, moved into Scarborough in the 1960s, he says nobody knew about Hinduism because there were only a few Indian families.

He recalls a time when his Hindu neighbour put up lights for Diwali, the festival of lights, and people living nearby were confused thinking he was celebrating Christmas in the summer.

By dancing with a coloured stole, Kamlesh Oberoi, left, and Varsha Shah, right, joyfully celebrated Holi festival, the festival of colour. Over the decades, however, the numbers of Indians have gradually increased. Statistics Canada numbers show South Asians make up almost 10 per cent of country’s population and have become the largest ethnic minority in Scarborough.

“Now, many Canadians at least know what Holi festival is and how it takes place,” Dhanjal said. “I believe the expansion of Indian culture and Hinduism definitely deepened the understanding about our custom.”

Many children participated in performing traditional dance and listened to the mythical tales about Holi. While joyfully watching the performance by his daughter, Shivani, 9, Mehta is concerned about how he can continuously educate her about Indian culture.

“Right now my daughter can understand our native language, but she cannot write it,” Mehta said. “She will adopt Canadian culture more and more while forgetting some part of our culture especially if our ceremonies are partially restricted.

“We are also too busy to celebrate every Hindu festival together because those are not holidays here,” he added.

Coincidently, this year’s Holi festival and Easter were celebrated in the same week.

“Fortunately, we don’t need to work this weekend. So everybody came to the community centre and enjoyed Holi festival,” Mehta said.