As they gathered together in the courtyard at the W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus, WMed students got a chance last month to learn about Holi, a Hindu celebration also known as the festival of colors.
But the celebration was about so much more than that. In the end, as second-year students Ryan D’Mello and Arushi Tripathy see it, the event was a chance – for just a moment – to let go, to have fun, to celebrate different backgrounds, different religions, and the crossing of cultural barriers.
“It’s one of the few times I’ve ever seen everyone kind of let go,” Tripathy said of the Holi celebration, which was held May 12 as part of the medical school’s Student Diversity Series. “We were just connecting with our inner child and having fun.”
Holi is a celebration of diversity, friendship and thanksgiving, and is held every year in March during the vernal equinox. D’Mello said events to commemorate Holi, which he took part in previously during as a student at Kalamazoo College, are typically held in May in the Kalamazoo area because of the cold weather that often is still present in Michigan in March.
In South Asia, the celebration offers one of the few times that social castes and religious differences are set aside as the poor and rich, and people of many different religions join together to celebrate with their friends, neighbors and strangers. Holi is also important for the South Asian diaspora as people come together to build community and celebrate shared heritage.
The celebration of Holi at WMed grew out of an idea that was sparked by D’Mello, Tripathy and M2s Sargoon Nepaul and Vishal Somnay. D’Mello and Tripathy said the student council at the medical school, as well as WMed’s Office of Admissions and Student Life were very supportive of the event.
D’Mello said about 45 people came to the Holi celebration and more than 30 students, as well as students’ children and significant others, took part in the throwing of powders, the tossing of water balloons and the spraying of water from water jets.
Prior to the fun, D’Mello said the group gathered to learn about Holi and enjoyed Indian cuisine and drank some Mango Lassi.
“It’s about community,” D’Mello said. “In India, you would play Holi with your neighbors. Here, for me, it’s been classmates at K-College or members of the community.
“It was nice to be able to celebrate Holi with our med fam here,” he added. “I was shocked, but excited, to see how people just went with it. People were just ready to have fun.”
D’Mello said he also found a “beauty” in that he, Tripathy, Nepaul and Somnay, who are from different backgrounds, came together to organize the Holi celebration at WMed. He said he is Catholic, while Tripathy and Vishal are Hindu and Sargoon is Sikh.
“That is kind of representative of a modern day Holi celebration,” he said. “It crosses cultural barriers. To me, there’s a beauty in that metaphor that you start (Holi) off looking very different.
“After you play Holi, we all look the same. I think there’s a kind of beauty in different backgrounds planning this event and putting it together here.”
Going forward, D’Mello and Tripathy said they hope to make the Holi celebration an annual event at WMed.