Many Shades of Love: Multimedia Reflections on Holi

The following piece is a compilation of videos created by Thea Piltzecker and Cole Pennington and photographs taken by Sylvia Kang and Ana Singh that focus on the immersive, fluctuating and transcendent celebrations of love we all experienced throughout our time in Vrindavan during the festival of Holi. We have included some of the insightful thoughts on Holi by Professor Jack Hawley, a South Asian Religion expert at Barnard College and Acharya Srivatsa Goswami of the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram.

INTRODUCTION BY Thea Piltzecker and Ana Singh


For all Hindus, Holi is the festival of love. But in Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram in Vrindavan, the love between Krishna and his consort Radha took center stage in a rasa lila theatrical performance that commemorates the original Holi.

A Rasa Lila Theatrical Performance. BY THEA PILTZECKER  

The performance that we saw recreated the story of Krishna’s lighthearted interactions with the gopis (milkmaids) and his favorite gopi and consort Radha. An all-male troupe dressed in elaborate gold saris danced onstage; these were the gopis, enjoying their work in the village of Barsana. Krishna and his friends arrived next, decked out in gold pantaloons and bristling mustaches.

The two groups engaged in a tit-for-tat exchange, drawing laughter from the large audience. After a tug-of-war and whirling musical numbers, Radha won their game. She sat triumphantly on Krishna’s throne, enjoying her victory as the musicians sang their praises. She and Krishna were ceremonially bound together by the flower petals poured over the couple.

Once the rasa lila performance ended, the love between families a could be seen through traditional Holi play as children enthusiastically grabbed handfuls of the leftover flower petals from the performance and promptly threw the petals at their parents.


Holi in Vrindavan
Rasa lila theatrical performance at the Sri Caitanya Prema Samsthanana ashram in Vrindavan. BY SYLVIA KANG
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Holi Photographs. BY SYLVIA KANG & ANA SINGH

In the backyard of the ashram, the love of Holi continued to spread playfully among friends. A group of young adults could be seen pouring large buckets of colored water on each other as they gleefully laughed about their soaked clothing.

Outside the ashram, on the brightly colored streets of Vrindavan, spreading love was not exclusive to friends and family. Strangers proudly shouted the words “Hare Krishna!” as they smeared vibrant colors on each other’s faces. It quickly became apparent that not a single face or article of clothing can go untouched during Holi.

“Holi touches on the roughness of love,” said Professor Jack Hawley on the nature of Holi play among strangers, and more specifically between men and women. “If it’s about love, then it’s about love in very dramatic ways,” he added.

Reflecting on Holi in Vrindavan.  BY COLE PENNINGTON 


But in a sense, that rough nature of Holi is able to penetrate right through India’s rigid social hierarchy system.  During Holi, the traditional rules of the caste system break down, according to the Goswami. “In the multi-colors of love, all the shades of skin are gone,” he said alluding to the caste system’s traditional emphasis on skin color as an indicator of status.

As multimedia journalists, we attempted to capture the many forms of love we experienced during Holi, as the Goswami eloquently summarized. The flower petals offered to the divine contain many colors, which he said is a symbolically important detail. "Love is not just the pure red rose, you know," he said. "Even the love has different shades."