We’ve partnered with our friends at global photography site Feature Shoot to spotlight some of the most compelling images in our Offset collection. This week, we get an intimate look at the faces and celebration of India’s colorful Holi Festival.
Award-winning travel photographers María Ibáñez and Lluís Salvadó, the creative duo behind Bisual Studio, were drawn to India’s Holi Festival for its explosive color and joyousness, explaining that the event is a fantasy destination for travelers and photographers alike.
Holi is held in honor of the myth of Holika, the sister of the demon Hiranyakashyap, an evil king who mandated that his people renounce all other deities. She and her brother were ultimately defeated by the god Vishnu, and to this day, the annual festival rejoices in the the success of the godly over the demonic and rejoices in the the arrival of spring, drawing thousands of families into the street, armed with abeer and gulal powders dyed green, red, blue, and orange.
During the festival, millions of people paint each other’s bodies, dance and sing, and eat and drink traditional foods. Women “beat” men with sticks in jest, and the men respond by drenching the women in bright pigments. We spoke to the artists of Bisual Studio about their time at the festival and what it means to photograph such a colorful event.
What brought you to India for the Holi festival?
“The Holi festival is one of the most visibly beautiful festivals to photograph for any travel photographer. It’s a dream scene to shoot. Holi is celebrated in March or April every year, and one of our main reasons for visiting India at this time of year was to photograph the festival, with the aim of getting some very colorful portraits. Colored powder and water are thrown and painted on people, which is beautiful to photograph.”
Could you tell me a bit more about the myth of Hiranyakashyap and how this plays into the celebration and the arrival of spring?
“The legends say that Hiranyakashyap commanded everybody in his kingdom to worship only him. But his son Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Vishnu and refused to worship his father. The king tried several ways to kill Prahlad, but he couldn’t. Finally, he asked his sister Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap because she had a gift, whereby she could enter the fire unscathed. Treacherously, Holika coaxed her nephew to sit in her lap and she took her seat in a blazing fire. The legend tells us that Holika had to pay the price of her sinister desire with her life, and Prahlad was saved by Vishnu. This mythological event kicks off the celebration of Holi.”
Could you tell us a bit about your personal experience there?
“This is a physical type of celebration. If you’re not comfortable with strangers throwing and rubbing colors over you, you need to be a little more careful or avoid the crowd. We were told that many people also celebrate privately amongst friends or within the confines of their hotels. But other than that, it was a unique experience, where we were able to participate in one of the most intense, exciting, and fun festivals in the world. People walk down the street, coveringg everyone who passes with colors and water.”
What is the atmosphere like?
“Millions of Indian people celebrate the Holi festival across the four corners of India. Holi originated in northern India, but its wide appeal has seen it spread across the land, and it has even become embraced by non-Hindus, who celebrate enthusiastically with their neighbors. The epicenter of the event, though, is Vrindavan (Mathura), a holy city three hours from Delhi, which is closely associated with Krishna, who was raised there, according to Hindu mythology.
“The festival is filled with so much fun that the very mention of the word ‘Holi’ draws smiles and enthusiasm from the people. Holi is celebrated with immense zeal and fervor throughout the length and breadth of the country.”
Do you know the people in your photographs, or are they strangers?
“We heard that the most amazing places to take pictures were the villages of Barsana, Nandgaon and Vrindavan, around Mathura. People from all corners of the world gather at Mathura every year to feel the essence of Holi in the land of Krishna.
“We headed to Mathura without really knowing what we would find. It was amazing. When we got there, hundreds of people filled the streets and temples of colors. Thousands of people from across India make a pilgrimage there during Holi, so it is very difficult get to know the people photographed, although everyone was very kind and affable with us.
“In Bikaner, in the northwest of India, we had the opportunity to experience a more familiar Holi through some local friends who took us to their neighborhood to enjoy the party with neighbors and relatives.”
What did you take away from your experience?
“The Holi festival in India is one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ trips we will never forget. It was a bit terrifying knowing we would be shooting in a “battle zone” where the powder and dust could potentially ruin our cameras. But several layers of plastic sandwich bags and gaffer’s tape saved us from worrying. The entire event was pretty mind-blowing — a sensory overload, to sum it up. We had a blast. It was a challenge, and we walked away pretty messy, but with a clean camera and lot of frames we like. And thanks to those photographs, we even won the Travel Photography Awards 2014 with a portfolio of faces of Holi.”
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