March 1st begins the Festival of Colors, a widely celebrated holiday in northeastern India (including our orphanages!), as well as the countries to the north of India, like Nepal and Bangladesh. It is a Hindu spring holiday, accompanied with throwing colored powder, called abir, and colored water. Its origins lie in the delight Krishna had in painting the face of Radha, the energy that drives the world, and other gopi, which are the cow-herding girls in Vaishnava theology. Krishna’s prank on Radha inspired the tradition of playing pranks that is observed today, typically by children.
In Orissa, the students dress in uniforms the color of saffron, wear garlands of fresh flowers and join the rest of the community in singing and dancing. The idol of Jagannath is placed on a palanquin (common in traditional Indian weddings, as well), which is taken throughout the streets, similar to a parade in the States. Then the women of the community sing devotional songs, while the men continue spraying colored water and abir.
The weather changes that occur in the spring season are believed to bring about illnesses like fevers and the common cold. The abir has a medicinal effect because the colors are derived from herbs thought to treat those illnesses.
The foods eaten during this time also have bold colors and flavors. Traditionally, the communities drink Thandai, made of rosewater, anise, almonds and watermelon. Other traditional dishes include Kesar Chawal, a rice dish with raisins, cashews, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and bay leaves, Dahi Bhalle, which is made with yogurt, ginger and green chilies.
One of the most popular choices is Aloo Chaat (shown above). Try making it yourself! Here’s a recipe:
- 3 Potatoes, peeled
- 1/2 tsp Red Chili Powder
- 1 tsp Cumin Powder, roasted
- 1 tsp Chaat Masala
- Tamarind Chutney
- Mint Chutney
- Chopped Coriander Leaves for garnish
- Optional garnish – Chopped Onion, Tomato Julienne, Fresh Pomegranate Seeds
- Oil for frying
- Dice potatoes into a fairly large dice – 3/4 to 1 inch cubes.
- Heat oil in a wok and deep fry potatoes, till golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper.
- In a bowl, place the fried potatoes and toss with red chilli powder, cumin powder, chaat masala
- Add mint chutney, tamarind chutney according to taste and toss to coat evenly.
- Serve, with toothpicks, in individual bowls, garnished with coriander leaves. You can also additionally garnish with chopped onion, tomato julienne or pomegranate