On Sunday, March 20th the sun shone bright through the day. Typical of any Spring day in India, a late autumnal weather in Melbourne brought forth the spirit of Holi, this great festival of colours. For many years now, the city has been ushering this festival with fervour in many venues. At the Sri Durga Temple at Rockbank, the mood was indeed palpable. More than 4,000 people spruced up the day with colour, food, music and cultural dance drama to mark this great festival.
On this special day, Sri Durga Temple welcomed patrons, guests and local residents right from the morning. The celebration officially began at 11 am when a special puja was performed at the stage set up for the cultural programmes. This was followed by the rendition of bhajans or devotional songs.
The sprawling Durga temple spread over 20 acres was transformed into an incredibly surreal sight as a sea of colourful people played with ‘gulal’ (colours) in gay abandon. From the young to the old, men, women and children were seen dusting each other in vibrant colours.
This version of Holi was not a sharp contrast to the celebration back in India. If at all there was any difference it was in the fact that the organising committee of the temple made sure everyone was having fun. So DJs came together and played popular Bollywood numbers that got everyone up on their feet. A young mothers’ dance group from Melton Council trained in the Shamak Davar school also performed. Young temple volunteers who were releasing their CDs belted out a few numbers to the happy crowd.
However the most exciting part of the event was the cultural activities. The Ram Lila temple committee performed a special item to showcase the significance of Holi. Added to this was renowned Indian Kuchipudi dancer Madhurima Narla who mesmerised the audience with three special numbers including the Holika Ballet.
The Holika Ballet is a significant story that connects to the celebration of Holi.
The legend goes that there was a king name named Hiranyakashipu who, like many demons and Asuras, had the intense desire to be immortal. To fulfil this desire, he performed the required penances until he was granted a boon by Lord Brahma. Since the Gods rarely granted immortality, he used his guile and cunning to get a boon which he thought made him immortal. The boon gave Hiranyakashyapu five special powers: he could be killed by neither a human being nor an animal, neither indoors nor outdoors, neither at day nor at night, neither by astra (projectile weapons) nor by any shastra (handheld weapons), and neither on land nor in water or air. As this wish was granted, Hiranyakashyapu felt invincible. This made him arrogant. Hiranyakashyapu decreed that only he be worshiped as a God, punishing and killing all who defied him. His son, Prahlad, disagreed with his father, and refused to worship his father as a god, continuing instead to worship Vishnu.
This made Hiranyakashipu very angry and he made various attempts to kill Prahlad. During a particular attempt on Prahlad’s life, King Hiranyakashyapu called upon his sister Holika for help. Holika had a special cloak that protected her from being harmed by fire. Hiranyakashyapu asked her to sit on a bonfire with Prahlad, by tricking the boy to sit on her lap and she herself took her seat in flames. But Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire by her life: she was unaware that the boon worked only when she entered a fire alone. Prahlad, who kept chanting the name of Vishnu all this while, came out unscathed as Vishnu blessed him for his extreme devotion.
For many traditions in Hinduism, Holi celebrates the death of Holika in order to save Prahlad, and thus Holi gets its name. After the Holika Ballet, the festival saw the Holika Dahan or bonfire and the festival wrapped up before dusk.
After the performance, Melton Council Mayor Sophie Ramsey, herself smeared with colours, said, “It feels great to be a part of this culture and learning. It’s really special. I love being invited to the festival of colours because at the end of the day, it’s like being a part of an extended family. It is a celebration that is full of love, laughter and everybody is smiling and dancing, colours flying through the air and you just love the atmosphere and the environment.”
According to Gupreet Verma, part of the marketing and audit committee of the temple, “What makes the celebration of Holi unique at the Sri Durga Temple at Rockbank is the fact that we are celebrating each and every festival to keep Indian culture alive in Australia.”
In the same vein, temple committee President Kulwant Joshi said, “Our celebration is not commercial. We have a strong interest to impart culture as well so that our tradition is passed on to generations here in Australia. We have for the past five years been celebrating Holi. We initially started because there were a lot of Indians in this part who could not go to the other areas such as Sandown where Holi was always held.” However he rued the fact that people have started festivals everywhere and that it would be a good idea to have it in one place. Wyndham Council, for instance, has three Holi festivals.
“Dusherra is our biggest festival and no one in Australia celebrates it like we do,” said Joshi, adding “Last year 30,000 people attended. Every Dusheera we have Ram Lila enacted in ten episodes. In addition there are kirtans and other cultural activities. Then we burn the effigy of Ravana and have the fireworks.”
Pradeep Mendiratta, also part of the marketing team, said, “Holi was not our trademark celebration, Dusherra was. But now Holi is growing every year.”
Sri Durga Temple, officially known as the Sri Durga Arts Culture and Educational Centre, was established in 1997. Joshi was who was part of the core team that help acquire the land said, “We started a small temple there but the Indian population was also small back then, then we kept growing as the population grew.” Today it is the largest Durga temple in Australia, he claims.
The temple is run by the services of volunteers who aside their professional jobs are contributing to ensure that Indian culture thrives in Australia. “This will be our gift to our children and the generations to come and it is also part of this great multicultural fabric,” said Verma, adding, “Our committee is registered as per the constitution and Fair Works Victoria. It is an association run by the members for the public. It is all driven by public funds and is not-for-profit organisation.”
Joshi said that being an organisation spread over a 20-acre land, there is a responsibility to do a lot. “We have a lot of plans in the pipeline. We want to do something for the elderly. We are trying to raise funds for a bus which will be driven by volunteers. The bus will drive to suburbs and fetch the elderly who can come here for recreational activities. We realise parents get bored when their children go to work and it is very hard for them to stay at home and pass time.”
By Team TIW