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Dye-ing Culture: Color Run, White-washing Holi Since 2012

Dye-ing Culture: Color Run, White-washing Holi Since 2012

by Nadya Agrawal

Co-opt: (v.) 1. divert to or use in a role different from the usual or original one. 2. adopt (an idea or policy) for one’s own use

The Color Run™ and other similar ideas like Run or Dye™ is a great and fun way to run with your friends, come together as a community, get showered in colored powder and not have to deal with all that annoying culture that would come if you went to a Holi celebration.  There are no prayers for spring or messages of rejuvenation before these runs.  You won’t have to drink chai or try Indian food afterwards.  There is absolutely no way you’ll have to even think about the ancient traditions and culture this brand new craze is derived from.  Come uncultured, leave uncultured, that’s the Color Run, promise.

Doubtless you’ve seen posters advertising for Color Runs™ in your neighborhood – they’re the ones sporting happy white college kids covered in color.  You may have even paused for a second to appreciate the clear fun they’re all having as they enjoy a part of the desi culture.  But honestly, the Color Run™ does absolutely nothing to give credit where it’s due.  And to add insult to injury, they’ve trademarked out tradition.

According to the Color Run™ website, there are only two “simple rules”: 1) Wear white at the starting line and 2) Finish plastered in color.  That would’ve been an original idea if Indians hadn’t been doing it for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

The race ends with something called a “Color Festival” (actually in quotes on the website as well). Sounds an awful lot like a digestible name for Holi. Sorta like how white people call Diwali the “Festival of Lights” even though this is a major over-simplification—I don’t think we just light a whole bunch of candles and call it a night.  Nope, we tell stories from the Hindu Scripture, the Ramayana, share sweets and gifts, say prayers and welcome the New Year.

And at Holi, we don’t simply throw colors in each other’s faces—it’s a place to play with people you love and revel in the vibrancy of spring.  One of our favorite and most colorful holidays is being, pun intended, white-washed.  And it’s like we’ve been completely eradicated from this event as nowhere on the Color Run™ website is there mention of India, Holi, Krishna, or even spring.  Apparently this is a completely organic creation of the Color Run™ head honchos.  And they’re making loads of money from it.

There is a vague understanding that the Color Run™ pays out money to charities selected by their runners.  I cannot find evidence on the website (or the Yelp reviews) as to where exactly the money raised from the runs and their store goes and I have no idea how much of every dollar donated goes back in the Color Run™ administrative workings.  It seems even the runners, if the reviews are anything to go off of, don’t have a clear idea where their donations are going.  So, our culture is being co-opted to turn a profit, but at least you can buy a pair of super cute shorts that say “Color This!” Hai Ram, if our Dadis saw this, they’d be threatening thuppards all around.

I can bemoan the misuse of Holi, the profiting off our culture and the further sexualization of it, but I think worst of all is that it doesn’t give us the chance to share Holi properly.  Personally, I love it when I can bring my non-Desi friends to the annual campus Holi function.  I can show them a part of my heart and an aspect of my identity as a strong Brown woman. The Color Run™ robs me of that chance because now everyone who participates gets a diluted (and completely wrong) version of desi culture. With this Holi knockoff, they lose the culture and the tradition, but they keep our colors.

Read about the Hindu roots of Holi

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  1. The de-culturalization of Holi is not due to racial reasons universal to white people, it is due to religious reasons from people who feel uncomfortable with “pagan” traditions. Take it up with the Evangelical Christians.

  2. I really don’t think that the fault solely lays with Evangelical Christians or those fearing ‘pagan’ traditions. Holi isn’t simply a ‘pagan’ or religious ceremony because many of the religions present in India (Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism) all participate in the event and all cite different cultural OR religious reasons for doing so. So the focus, even now, doesn’t solely remain religious but rather it’s about maintaing a cultural tradition that brings a community together. Also, even though I cited off-shoots of Hinduism as the religious communities that participate, Holi is easily accessible to all in India and many Muslims and Christians participate because it’s very much about sharing culture and embracing the community rather than simply a religious event. As well, Holi is only one item in a laundry list of cultural misappropriation. Consider even Christmas, which isn’t a ‘pagan’ tradition. Classically Christmas is supposed to focus on the birth of Christ but Western society has shifted the focus to purchasing presents and trees and decorations and having parties and the original Christmas vigil or even Christmas sermons fall to the wayside. This is not about Evangelical Christians shying away from ‘pagan’ traditions or even trying corrupt them. This is completely about Western society co-opting and misusing cultural and religious traditions to turn a profit.

  3. People enjoy the notion of being colored with chalk. Since it isn’t traditional in America, it costs money to get the ball rolling. It’s necessary to buy the chalk, get the permit, put up the advertising, organize the race, security, rental fees, etc. Overall, most events don’t happen without the conquest for profit or there would be no events at all. Sad fact. If the race was a scam, shame on them. But just because India came up with the idea first does not mean that other groups should not even mimic a single part unless they convert to Hinduism (I’m assuming if they practiced the whole celebration under the name of a different faith it would be just as bad in your eyes). I would accept your concern as legit if they implied: “this is just how the Indians do it”. But it’s not, it doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes or prejudges, it’s meant to strengthen the community by helping people bond and enjoy themselves in a healthy manner; something America needs to do more of. Yes, it is important for the world to know and understand India with eyes unclouded by stereotypes and trivialized cultural elements, but the Color Run isn’t the issue as long as it stays separate from the Indian culture.

  4. I thinks it ok that people do the color runs however i think its equally important that people know a little background on where the idea for the color runs was derived. Its not to say that we need to celebrate the holiday in the same manner but having them go on without people knowing it comes from a long tradition seems wrong. I feel like too many thing have been taking from other cultures and have been used as entertainment without trying to understand why they were started. Thanks for writing this article!

  5. Or you can look at this the other way … I’ve known of Color Run for a year or so but only when I started researching how to protect my camera for the one I’m taking part in later this month did I learn of Holi…
    So I think it could be argued that it works both ways Color Run has educated me a little in return for stealing idea of getting covered in pretty colours… x

  6. I’ve seen the throwing of the colors in movies. It always looked fun and like something I would want to be a part of. I’m not Indian, I can’t afford to go to India, and even if I could I don’t know enough about the culture to know if it would be acceptable for me to participate in these festivities, when or where they take place, what I would need to do, etc., I was so excited to participate in the color run because it did remind me of this thing that I always wanted to be a part of. That’s actually how I explained it to friends, “You know how in the movies in India they throw colored powder at each other and everywhere? The run is like that.” Would it be acceptable to you if there was a mention of the festival or tradition on the webpages for these runs? Or if there was a booth at the run with info about India etc.,? I felt that I was just having fun doing something that I would not get to experience more authentically because of circumstances outside my control. There was no malice. Please respond to my email if you care to respond so that I am sure to see it. Thank you.

  7. I know of Holi. Like other responders, I don’t feel like I will ever get to India to celebrate it in the way that could really do it justice. If there were a Holi festival in my area, I would totally attend. I feel like I would actually enjoy it more if it had a more complex background other than “give us your money and we will throw chalk at you.” Alas, I do not have a community in my area that does a traditional Holi festival. So, I am stuck. I appreciate everything about the Holi festival as I have read and seen (Diwalli, as well!). Just wanted you to know that there are some people out there who know the background and do appreciate it! We may be few and far between but, there nonetheless! :-)

  8. oh fucking please. I expect you to stop using/doing anything invented by white people. that appropriation shitlord.

  9. Thanks for posting this. I am living in Western Europe and a similar trend has popped up in many of the big metropolitan areas here. There is a group of event organizers who have organized a “Holi Festival” and are renting fairgrounds to have it. I was really excited to go with my friends because I had a number of friends growing up from an Indian background and I had heard a lot about Holi and really wanted to experience it for myself. Unfortunately, it seems the only thing in common this had with a real Holi celebration was the colored powder. Otherwise it was just an electronic music festival that hired some Indian DJs to do the lineup and that had one Indian dancer onstage for part of the time. Even the music didn’t have any resemblance to what my Indian friends used to play me. I hope someday I will get to experience a real Holi festival. It is truly a pity that these events are exploiting wonderful cultural traditions for quick cash. I feel like just as many people would have flocked to the festival if it had had the traditional food and music.

  10. Maybe people are uncomfortable with the whole religious aspect of it. I really would rather be doused in color than pray to imaginary skyfriends for spring. Science makes such things unnecessary. And the color run has nothing to do with spring or any of the things surrounding the tradition, so maybe the originators don’t even know its roots?

  11. What is the inspiration behind The Color Run™?
    The Color Run 5k is the first paint race of its kind and was inspired by several awesome events, including Disney’s World of Color, Paint Parties, Mud Runs, and Festivals throughout the world such as Holi. We wanted to create a less stressful and untimed running environment that is more about health and happiness!

    Just FYI Thanks for the article. By the way, Evangelical Christians likely have no clue what they are participating in and in my opinion should participate in it precisely because it has connections with Holi.

  12. Last I checked, there’s plenty of Indians who celebrate Christmas here in the US without any regard to religious context of it. It’s just another example of the secularization of religious holidays, and no one cares. Get off your soap box and move along.

  13. Nadya, great column. You might be interested in this Sacramento Bee story on where the proceeds for the recent Color Run in Sacramento went. Much less to charity than most people think.

  14. What are you shit disturbing for? The Color Run has nothing to do with Holi, go find something else to write about. You can’t get butthurt about this for no reason whatsoever. Since when did we own celebrations with coloured powder?

    I’m more upset at myself for letting this article get to me than your feeble-minded grasp of when to pull the race card.

  15. Here’s pizza, here’s coke, buy this, buy that….

  16. Wouldn’t it be just as offensive if a bunch of white college kids were re-creating indian culture and heaven forbid got some kind of detail wrong, completely disrespecting its culture? Maybe some people can’t travel to India to get covered in bright colors and have fun. Maybe it’d be a dick move to make an american ceremony. Or maybe it’d just be fun to have a secular celebration with colored powder and not have to worry about offending cultures. I guess you’re screwed either way, but honestly, why is life so serious in your eyes? It’s just a fun run that copied the idea of using bright colored powder!

  17. Seriously, lighten up. The Color Run does not market anything like “do what they do in India on Holi”, or anything like this. Their objective is to have a fun event – not reference, mock or co-opt any religious tradition. While Holi is a traditional Spring festival associated with the worship of Vishnu, how many Indians do you think are aware of this as they throw powder? When I lived there, many of my neighbors had no clue. While throwing powder and interacting with members of the opposite sex is a part of this holiday, Indian culture does not have the mandate on this practice. By your logic, Thai people should be upset every time they see a water fight, as this occurs during the festival of Songkran. Think about it, throwing colored powder on one another is just fun!

  18. Christmas is a Christian usurpation of winter solstice celebrations. Using Christmas to justify Color Runs is like using Color Runs to justify the next cultural appropriation by white people.

  19. “Christmas is a Christian usurpation of winter solstice celebrations.”

    Sigh. One of these days, people will actually read some decent history on Christmas and abandon this silly position.

  20. “Sorta like how white people call Diwali the “Festival of Lights…'”

    I know, right!? Gah! White people! Certainly no “brown people” ever refer to Diwali as “the Festival of Lights,” and definitely not the “red,” “yellow,” or “black” people. And just because deepavali translates to “row of lamps” and is a highly festive occasion, it doesn’t mean “white” people should refer to it as the “Festival of Lights.” That just makes no sense at all!

  21. Thank you for this article, Nadya. I think the pictures I’ve seen of Holi are beautiful. I’m sorry that you’re encountering a misrepresentation and appropriation of something that is so dear to you. And I think you’ve hit on a beautiful relational aspect of this whole cultural appropriation issue: yes, I love colors and think Holi looks like fun–which is why I won’t be a part of a group of white kids throwing powder on each other in a shallow imitation of what Holi is all about. I don’t understand why it’s so unappealing to people to actually engage with people from other cultures in fair, respectful ways rather than crossing cultural boundaries without considering significance.

  22. I love how people are saying “It’s just a fun event / But globalisation / But CHRISTMAS and so you should just chill out!!!”

    Not only are they displaying blatant ignorance about power politics (and how Christmas is really the worst example you can give; do the words DOMINANT RELIGION WORLDWIDE and WESTERNIZED MEDIA help that rotted pumpkin you call a brain), but at the same time they obviously don’t understand the basic point: you can borrow from my culture when you face the same discrimination for being a part of it as I do. Simple.

  23. Where is the proof that this idea was dirived from said cultural events? Does EVERYTHING have to be torn apart and analized by paranoid, insecure and jelous people? I would like to believe this event is getting more people off thier sofas and more fit. <——- period!

  24. I just did the color run in Dubai, UAE…lots of Indians ran. Yes, it was mentioned that Holi uses the same colored Chalk. End of similarities. The Muslim/Christian/Hindi/Buddist/atheists in attendance all had a good time. I do believe the author of the article is race-centric.

  25. “bork: oh fucking please. I expect you to stop using/doing anything invented by white people. that appropriation shitlord.”
    Even though I believe all human beings are the same, however, if you do want to make a difference on color:

    Half the time you guys are laying false claims on other people’s and other countries inventions, calling them your own and marketing / selling them to your customer base. Second, most of your modern inventions are based on concepts like the zero, algebra and calculus, that came from India. The reason your mother’s so hot is because of plastic surgery, which was also invented in India. So go eff yourself.

  26. Agreed

    Its so wrong. And its another example of vile, empty westerners hijacking other cultures and passing it off as their own !

    Just like those ugly villains did with yoga

  27. when I lived in Arlington, VA, I saw an advertisement for this and I was actually pretty offended by it. The moment I saw it, I knew it was an imitation of Holi, which only made me angry because it is an appropriation of a very important Hindu holiday. It has meaning to us and I find these comments typical of a bunch of people who are just here to imitate. So now they are imitating Hindus: pretending Holi is a “color run” just as yoga is about a bunch of downward dogs not actually about enlightenment and meditation. We shouldn’t be too mad because imitation is the greatest form of flattery. We should be on edge though because the first people they imitated were the Jews by taking their religion and changing it’s name…eeke….How did that turn out… Anyway, as Hindus let us be flattered: I can’t turn anyway these days without someone doing yoga, saying om, talking about moguls (lol) and talking about karma…Our slogan should be “we don’t imitate; others imitate us.”

  28. the spiritual part/practice of Holi should stay with the event. If you or anyone is uncomfortable with the religious aspect of it…. DON’T DO IT! It’s that simple. I how much the dominant white culture likes to cherry pick the world for the cools stuff and leave out anything that suggests they are not the shining center of the universe. It is incredibly disrespectful.

  29. Some of this is does make me laugh. While I am Hindu and feel disrespected by some of these appropriations I largely don’t mind for most of them. The Colour Run? OK fine whatever. But to the person that said “I see plenty of Indians enjoying Christmas without a care for the religious reasons” – how about we move Christmas to June? Fancy that? Why not?
    As some one else mentioned, in Western Europe there is now a “Holi:Festival of Colour” with absolutely no respect for the religion, Holi is in March and they run this music festival in June. This pisses me off. As a festival goer and DJ I love the idea of the festival, but to call it Holi is an absolute joke. Let’s move Easter? Eid? Vaisakhi? I like chocolate eggs, but I’d prefer them in Winter, they’re comforting, let’s move Easter to then. It’s a christian holiday you say? So what? It makes people happy.
    At Christmas do the Indians in America burn crosses and portray Mary as a stripper? Hindu’s don’t drink or eat meat during religious festivals, but these festivals are becoming associated with drinking, burgers and sex.

    This is not cool. They actually call it Holi. What do you guys think about this one then?

  30. Though I have never participated in a Color Run event, I feel that the participants should know where the idea came from. If the Holi festival was trademarked by Hindus there is no way The Color Run organizers would be able to justify not stealing it. Just give them their props and maybe the average young American will learn a little more about another culture.

  31. A friend invited me to a Holi celebration at the end of this month. I was googling ‘celebrating Holi responsibly’ as I am an outsider to it and came across your article. Thank you for writing it! I want to make sure that I am responsibly accepting my friend’s kind invitation and that I don’t make obnoxious missteps when I participate. I thought there was something familiar about the Color Run. I haven’t ever participated in one of those, but I know those who do. It does seem appropriative.

  32. my friend wants to do this for her birthday party and is calling me stupid for saying that it’s disrespectful.

  33. Lots of traditions come from other cultures, such as Yoga, praying, meditating. Once ideas are shared, they become internalized by someone new who thinks differently then perhaps the person who generated the thought. Therefore. someone who thinks differently (perhaps due to geographic placement, religion, social environment) will look at the idea of the color event and modify it. It’s called modernism. Just like cars, clothes, and homes have changed over the years. I personally enjoyed the run as i did it with my husband and close friends. We were happy! We don’t celebrate religion and that’s our choice. However we do enjoy going to running events. We are white but can’t really help that and I feel offended by your racial slurs. You are free to make your point but should know that the people who care about your tradition will celebrate it your way and the people who don’t care will celebrate their way. It’s sad.

  34. With all due respect Kat, how many of your traditions have been taken from you and manipulated? It is not called Modernism, it is called Imperialism. You mistake the objection as an objection of your happiness however it is not and to be honest your “offense” at this objection is a touch selfish.

    What is your stance on Fairtrade? If at the end of the day, as long as your enjoyment in the end product is your only goal, then the correct treatment and respect of the producers of your pleasure are not really that important.

    It’s funny that every one of the things mentioned, Yoga, praying, meditating as being from other cultures is all from the same culture as Holi – Hinduism, but due to their appropriation and lack of respect to recognise their origins, regular, respectful people like yourself, have no idea of where these things come from. That is what is sad.

    Also just to clarify, this is not about white bashing, my girlfriend is white, born Christian and gets just as if not more upset about this topic. I don’t mean to be harsh but you’ve just tried to justify that it is ok to celebrate something important to a person but not care about it.

  35. Here in Canada these runs are put on during the summer/fall months of June through September so if you don’t pick up on a Holi connection which occurs in Spring (March) I think you could be forgiven. However, looking through the information for the 2 companies that run these races in Canada (where I live) they never mention Holi or any other religious festival, Hindu or otherwise. The only connection is the dye or colours as far as I can gather. As you say, no prayers are said and Holi isn’t noted for being a foot race, in any case. The connection seems tenuous but that is not to say that co-opting didn’t occur, just that I can’t find evidence for it here in Canada.
    On the charity side, I can’t find any serious discussion (aside from simply mentioning that they partner with charities to raise money somehow) about this from them. They’re for-profit companies and charge 60-ish dollars to be in the race which they keep for themselves. The charity work happens some other way that I can’t ascertain from their information. That being the case I’d take their “charity work” with a grain of salt.

  36. Bork wrote: “oh fucking please. I expect you to stop using/doing anything invented by white people. that appropriation shitlord.” Saber responded: “Even though I believe all human beings are the same, however, if you do want to make a difference on color: Half the time you guys are laying false claims on other people’s and other countries inventions, calling them your own and marketing / selling them to your customer base. Second, most of your modern inventions are based on concepts like the zero, algebra and calculus, that came from India. The reason your mother’s so hot is because of plastic surgery, which was also invented in India. So go eff yourself.”

    It’s called borrowing, and it’s been going on among cultures as long as there have been cultures. That Christmas tree that others have brought up was borrowed from European pagan culture, along with Easter eggs and Halloween. The Romans adapted personas and back-stories for their gods from the Greeks. Many ancient religions had a Flood story. For over 500 years Purim, Halloween, and Mardi Gras have all been celebrated in costume; should the celebrants of those religions all be pointing fingers at each other, or did they all jointly “steal” this form of merriment from someone else?

    I do agree that it’s possible to borrow in a disrespectful manner, as would be the case of making a form of solemn worship a source of amusement or making a mockery of a revered religious figure. But that isn’t the case here. You make it sound like the Color Run people came upon this tradition and said, “Behold, here is another preciously guarded, sacred treasure of these people whom we dominate; let us steal it while showing contempt for their pride.” Well, no, the colors are just plain, unadulterated, celebration, and others saw it and said, “Hey, that looks like fun!” The fact that in the source culture that form of merriment is associated with a specific set of beliefs and traditions that other cultures don’t share doesn’t alter that.

    In one respect this is a matter of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. A common complaint about dominant cultures is that they consider themselves superior and have nothing but disdain for the customs of others. But just go ahead and demonstrate a great appreciation for the appeal of another culture’s custom, and that just leads to more hand-wringing.

  37. This author who bemoans the cultural appropriation of Holi doesn’t realize that the nationalized, homogenized, saffronized ideal of Holi that she thinks is her “heritage” does as much violence to the variety of Holi celebrations carried out all over South Asia by different communtiies as the Color Run.
    Holi doesn’t belong to any community. There are no specific customs that are mandatory.
    The idea of cultural appropriation is rooted in internalizing the idea the only westerners have access to modernity an the rest of us have “tradition”, and that these traditions are immutable and pure and anchored in an unchangeable past.

    And to reiterate the author’s ideas of Holi as a specifically neo-Vaishnava festival is as problematic, if not more problematic than the Color Run.

  38. Or religion doesn’t matter and it’s honestly just fun to run around with colored powders being thrown at you…

  39. As I traveled through Europe & Asia I constantly heard people mocking the “fat lazy American”, whether they were talking about POTUS Bush, or engaging me in conversation just to gauge how uneducated I was, I experienced anti American bias nearly everywhere I went.

    Now I see some Americans beginning to get of the couch, actually getting fresh air and exercise, and the culture police have to jump in and cry foul. I honestly think you should just shut up and let people be. Alleging with no proof that there is embezzlement at these events, I saw nothing but conjecture in this article regarding that topic.

    I’ll call it what it is: cheap journalism. Everyone has an axe to grind around deadline time.

  40. I think it’s fine that the author feels her culture was stolen and re-marketed for white people. Does it make me think that the color run is any more sleazy than any other capitalist venture? No.

    However, I think it’s funny that it puts white people on the defensive. While I knew about Holi first, I can only imagine if I didn’t, I would be appreciative for the context as I am always appreciative when I hear the origins of great ideas. I also agree with the commenter that it likely could bring more folks to be interested in Holi. However, how are people to know if people like the author don’t enlighten them?

    Also, it’s perfectly fine to learn and explore things like Holi without feeling pressured to convert. That’s just ridiculous. Tons of people celebrate Christmas and Easter without converting or being Christian. Furthermore, we definitely try to shove those holidays down everyone’s throats in this country so maybe stop jumping on someone for wanting to define a tradition from another religious culture.

    In short, why not just be appreciative for the knowledge that is being shared here and not take it so personally? Go enjoy your color run, and maybe even venture out and find out about a rich Indian tradition as well?

  41. Having made the mistake of reading all the comments, I felt I had to add one. Many, many comments seem to be missing the point of the article. Yes, the language used can be interpreted as an angry rant against colonizers. But I think, if you rationally read the article, the POINT is the author doesn’t appreciate the Color Run making money off of, what to HER is, a beloved cultural tradition that she enjoys sharing with the world without even a simple mention of its roots. Yes, the Color Run doesn’t seem to have great ties to Holi aside from colored chalk (though that’s a pretty big tie to any person within the culture), and no globalization and culture sharing isn’t bad, BUT to pick and choose from a culture the parts you want and then not reference it? That’s the problem. Go ahead, enjoy the Color Run. If you don’t mind paying money to have people throw powder at you, then I don’t mind. But understand where it comes from.

    So many people seem to think that you have to go to India or it would be insulting to participate/try to recreate a Holi celebration. I think the author makes it clear that her desire isn’t to have everyone “convert” as one comment suggests or travel to India for an authentic experience. She just wants people to understand what the roots are and maybe even appreciate what brought about this fun tradition. I don’t think that’s much to ask — these types of events often have sponsor booths and other tents, how hard would it be to include a pamphlet or even a small flyer explaining Holi, or give a site to go to for more information. Hell, if that’s too much money (printing and whatnot) add a simple link to the website. Give people the ability to be educated on the roots and then go and enjoy a fun run. She’s not saying “hands off my culture,” she’s saying, “don’t take without regard.”

    I’ll try to explain what it *feels* like. It may not be rational, it may not be intended, but it’s what it *feels* like. It feels like someone has picked apart and taken (instead of letting you share) parts of what makes you, you, and in doing so has said that the other parts aren’t worthwhile. That you (and your culture) aren’t one to be celebrated, and the few bits that make the cut have to be seriously washed or altered before they are acceptable. It feels like it’s adding further divide to already wide sea of “us” and “them,” where we belong in the “them” group even though we feel like you. It’s like with fusion food. you don’t take English and Korean influences and put them into a dish and call it English. You celebrate both. So have your fun runs, but celebrate us too. No one is asking Color Run, et al to add to the end a prayer or idol image or anything remotely religious. Just understanding and appreciation.

    And, as an aside, this idea that these runs and Indians celebrating Christmas are the same is down right idiotic. For one, exchanging gifts with loved ones and having a tree is still called “Christmas,” so we are acknowledging that it’s tied to this tradition. Granted we aren’t celebrating it the way it was intended to be from years ago, but we aren’t changing the name and calling it our own. Second, we all know the stories of Christ and the happy tales of his birth (at least in America) thanks to a very Christianized public school upbringing and media, ie we’re aware of the Christian roots. So no, it’s not the same.

  42. This is an interesting article on the Origin Story of Holi, but not the origination of Holi. How did this celebration come to be an important Hindi holiday…and on what older celebrations and belief is it built?

  43. Hey Mark, here’s the story about Holi’s origins into a Hindu holiday:

  44. I was just talking about this with a colleague when our work suggested we participate in a Colour Run. I think it is misappropriation of a beautiful thing and it makes me ashamed to be a white girl :C

  45. I agree with your post, and you did make very valid points but I think your over looking it a lot. They aren’t making fun of your culture, they are using part of yours to create a fun way to get people active? Do you realize how many unhealthy the North American population is? If running through colored powder makes people want to run, I say hell yes go for it it’s awesome! But everything we know as today, has been transformed and adopted from other cultures! Technology, cars, religions, food, health!

  46. The author should relax- she doesn’t own the concept of throwing powder just because she has Indian heritage. Many previous comments offer good analogies of where this happens with other cultures and why it’s not a big deal. The author feels “robbed” of the chance to show her friends the true Holi festival because they participate in a Color Run? Uh… melodramatic? Could you make more of an effort to show your friends Holi or are your friends uninterested in the Indian version? Do Holi (multi-day festival) and Color Runs preclude your friends from experiencing both? Seems like a flimsy reason to be offended. Let people have fun with their colors, and teach them about Holi. In fact, I would counter that Color Runs help tons of people discover Holi each year.

    Also, I once had a glamorized, Western idea of Holi. Then I went to Holi in Vrindavan, India. My strongest memory of that festival is my girlfriend’s misery as men surrounded, groped, and aggressively shoved powder in her eyes and mouth (so they could grope her more), while I vainly tried to push them away. (Note: not everyone was like that, but the strongest experience defines the memory). I’ll read about Holi on Wikipedia, then enjoy an “uncultured” Color Run.

  47. Seems you have next to no idea what you are taking about here mate. You think you can reflect on what it is for someone else to take offense?

    Check yourself and your position and do yourself a favour by becoming less ignorant.

    Try to be a minority culture and religion in a world that doesn’t just not care about who you are but is actively racist and then watch it hypocritically decide it likes something and take one of the few things you have to connect you to your heritage, then take it from you an trivialise and commercialise it.

    The issue here isn’t so much the running or the throwing of powder, it’s that people like you lack the foresight to see the affect on an entire culture and it’s future.

    It’s not “just a run” when it is part of a global trend. When there are music festivals calling themselves “Holi” and is nothing to do with the actual festival e.g. Holi Festival of Colours and Holi One.

    It’s just ridiculous and by people like you think it’s fine.

  48. Honestly, I’m surprised about the author’s article and many of the comments here. I don’t know if it really matters, but I am Indian and I don’t find the color run, at all offensive. The reasoning is because the author talks about the cultural and religious significance of Holi, but still manages to give me an impression that even she doesn’t know. In fact, I can bet that at least 80% of Hindus don’t know. There are also ‘Christians’ who celebrate Christmas with the tree and gifts, but without attending mass or all the other religious events. So…my point is, the color run looks fun, it doesn’t need to give a nod to Holi to be so. It’s become a new secular tradition, but why not. Does every Hindu know the significance of Diwali? Does every Hindu even celebrate it the same way? Nope and Nope. Let people celebrate color, without condemning that they don’t know the origins of the festival.

  49. Thank you for this article. I am, sadly, not as knowledgeable about Hinduism (I hope that’s the correct terminology?) as I wish, but I’d definitely seen the parallels between the “color runs” and the Holi festival, and it caused me to cringe.

    I can shed a smidgen of light on the “donating to charity” part, though. I say a smidgen because I don’t have full details. But when I worked for a local United Way, we actually received a message via Facebook (I was in charge of social media, so I’m the one who got the message) from the organizer of one of these color runs for our city, asking to partner with our agency and be the recipient of the money raised by the run. Now, I was laid off from work a few weeks after that, so I have zero details on anything beyond that, but it does appear that yes, they do donate some portion of the proceedings to charity. How much, and how that all gets figured – it might be somewhere on each color run organization’s website or some such. But at least they don’t appear to be committing fraud by not actually donating.

  50. My friend invited me to colour run and when I told her its a tradition of our people, she said, “except its way different. ”
    And to all ghe Christians here that are upset about Hindus celebrating Christmas, what’s the harm? We aren’t making a mockery of Christmas, we’re celebrating it. Anyway, Christmas isn’t even truly Christian. They got ALL their customs and rituals from pagans and even switched the time of Christmas to compete with pagan holidays. Therefore, Hindus have a right to celebrate Christmas as much as Christians have a right to celebrate holi. However, it would be appreciated if they didn’t make money of it, hold it at the wrong time of the year, and call it their own.

  51. All I can say is this. If St Patrick’s day is call St Patrick’s day the world around, valentines day is called valentines day the world around, La Tomatina called La Tomatina the world around, then why is Holi called ‘Color Run’? What’s wrong with ‘Holi Run’? or Even ‘Holi color Run’?

  52. Thank you for the informative article. I am a white westerner and appreciate opportunities to better understand and be aware of the power dynamics embedded within this culture. Being born into the dominant culture of “white,” and growing up in a fairly homogeneous part of the country made/makes it difficult for me to see many of the power dynamics in place. However, I am genuinely grateful (and amazed) when I encounter situations/information that rips away these layers. I liken it to a fish attempting to see the water it lives in. For those of you thinking I am some guilt ridden, shame based white person – think again. I find it empowering and enlightening to explore and try to understand perspectives and experiences different from my own. Exploration of my own experiences and place in the world is on going, as I hope it is for all of us. Intersectionality ensures I am part of this puzzle, and I strive to be an informed and humble ally for everyone who values diversity and dignity. I had never heard of Holi and had no idea how the color runs came up with the idea to throw colored powder all over the place. I thought it looked fun, although I worried about inhaling dust while running…now I can become more informed on my own about the practices that sparked this idea and share this information with others when the conversation comes up. I would not have even known what I don’t know if I hadn’t come across this article, so thanks!

  53. I think the issue here is that the organizers claim this to be an original idea when it’s not. They should be open and transparent that they are taking Holi and turning it into a run. People who participate should know where this comes from – it is their right. Perhaps they would not want to do it if they knew it was a Pagan ritual associated with Indian / Hindu culture.

    Ultimately it does not matter, but it is weird people who often have a diminutive view of India and Indian culture celebrate a tradition from India with such enthusiasm. It would be nice if this event was used to at least make people appreciate global culture as well as having innocent fun.

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