Friday, March 18, was the Hindu/Indian holiday known as Holi, and students at Koontz Intermediate got to join in on the celebration of colors, love, and spring. Dr. Renuka Gusain of the UNC Asheville Humanities Department shared her Indian cultural heritage with the students and taught them about Holi.
“Holi is about joy, community bonding, relationships, and letting go of negativity and looking forward to renewal,” said Dr. Gusain. During Holi participants throw various colored pigments on each other in a large celebration. “On a global scale, a little under a billion people probably play Holi and that's a large number.”
DeLana Parker, ELA and Social Studies teacher at Koontz, helped facilitate the lesson. A student’s father is engaged to Dr. Gusain and learning about Holi at home and wanted to share it with the rest of 6th grade.
“The sixth grade social studies curriculum is all about ancient civilizations and, within that, we study the five major world religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism,” said Ms. Parker. “I think it is important for students to learn about cultures other than their own, because in order for our society to thrive, we have to have respect for the diversity that exists within it.”
“Intercultural competence and appreciating different cultural forms of community-building and celebration are very important for a better understanding of what it means to be human, our shared collective humanity, and what connects us,” said Dr. Gusain. “Teaching students about other cultures is not just something external or not connected to them, it is also an opportunity for students to reflect and engage with the self. We learn more about ourselves in relation to others.”
Before the colorful festivities, students had an in-depth lesson with Dr. Gusain about Holi, its history, and various aspects about its relationship to the culture of India and Hindu faith.
“My favorite question that was asked was about the mythology and religion behind the festival,” said Dr. Gusain. “It gave me an opportunity to make connections between various festivals around the world, their narratives--religious and secular, and their connection with the natural phenomenon and agricultural practices.“
But the best part of the celebration was “playing Holi” itself - the act of throwing colors. In clouds of pink, blue, purple, yellow, and green, Koontz students frolicked around the schoolyard. They laughed and hugged as they became increasingly colorful from head to toe.
“More than an academic appreciation (which I am sure most of them took away), it was the sheer joy and energy that overpowered everything else in the lesson,” said Dr. Gusain.
“That these students have endured a pandemic and some of them are going to be reeling from it for various reasons for a while to come... all their worries, hesitations, and care took a backseat. For a while when everyone was playing with the colors, all there existed was joy and laughter. I had not heard so much unfettered laughter (some 50 students) in a while, and there was a lot of palpable joy around us. I hope they learned that joy and celebration are important for building resilience.”