24 March 2020

Russell Berrie Fellows Welcome Spring with Interfaith Experience

On March 1, Russell Berrie Fellows Naqash Masih and Nataliia Pavlyk participated in Holi, a famous Hindu festival of colors.

The archaic feast commemorating the end of winter and the beginning of spring is known to different cultures. It is often celebrated in the form of a carnival (among which the most famous is the Venice Carnival with exquisite masks and costumes). Truly, it is interesting that the word “carnival” is derived from the Latin “carnem vale”“put away flesh.” Specifically in Christianity, it is connected with Easter and matches the period of one week before the start of the season of Lent. In the folk calendar of Ukraine (as well as other Eastern Slavs), the festival is known as Maslyana and delightfully celebrated with different amusements according to traditions.

Similarly to the majority of cultures worldwide, Hinduism has a special festival to celebrate the arrival of spring, love, and joy. In Bhagavadgītā, of all seasons Krishna proclaims himself a flower-bearing spring (10.35). Traditionally in India, people joyfully color each other with paint during Holi saying, “We are one with God.” Like throughout ancient European carnivals, the difference between social classes, identities,and beliefs is forgotten because one’s face is painted with color and difficult to be recognized.

On the day of the holiday, people clean their homes, remove everything that is old and set it on a bonfire that is lit towards the end of the festival and represents the amusements of the young Krishna.

There are several legends about the origin of Holi. According to one of them, as a baby, Krishna became dark-skinned after the demoness Pūtanā had poisoned him. As a youngster, he despaired whether beautiful Radha would like him because of his dark skin. That is why Krishna’s mother suggested him to ask Radha to paint his face in any color she wanted. She did it, and afterwards, they became a couple. Since then the divine love is commemorated as Holi.

During the festival, the fellows participated in a ceremony of the sacred dance-offering to Krishna in front of the statues in the temple. Krishna was greeted with Bharatanatyam, the oldest classical Indian dance which expresses religious themes and spiritual ideas. Originally it was performed by a devadasi, a woman who was dedicated to worship and serve a deity in a temple for her entire life and who was supposed to manifest the heavenly dance in the material body. Moreover, sacred dance presents a sophisticated vocabulary of sign language based on gestures and facial expressions that reveals the stories of Krishna’s life. It has traditionally been a form of narration of traditional legends from Hindu scriptures. Undoubtedly, it was a performative art that unifies the dancer and the audience to glorify life and provide joy.

The ceremony took place in the Domestic Temple of the Three Goddesses: Isis, Kālī and Lalitā (Venus). It rises above the remains of the ancient Temple of Venus of the Pompeo Theater in the historic center of Rome. This space was created for the contemplation of beauty, i.e. for practicing traditional Indian arts, sacred dance, contemplative yoga, philosophical discussions, and worshipping deities. Above all, the driving idea behind it was to create a new syncretic “Indo-European religion” building a bridge between ancient Roman beliefs (which also incorporated Egyptian influences, e.g., cult of Isis, a major Goddess in ancient Egyptian pantheon, spread throughout the Greco-Roman world) and Hindu traditions, which practice and rituals have never been interrupted throughout history.

The temple is considered to be an emanation of Batakalimandir, a shrine dedicated to the Goddess Kālī in Puri (Orissa, India) where she is worshipped without animal sacrifices.

All things considered, it is fascinating to observe the way that harmoniously unites ancient Goddesses of Egypt, India and Roman Empire in the center of contemporary Rome keeping alive traditions known since the dawn of time.