Light and Color

October 3, 2011

In Fiji, one gets many chances to join in the rituals and merriment of the festivals of other religions, particularly that of Hinduism. Out of respect, I try to accept all such any invitations, hoping to understand my Hindu friends better and see what links there might be with my own faith.

Two popular festivals in the Fiji Indian calendar are Holika (Holi) and Deepawali (Diwali). They both revolve around light and color.

There are numerous legends surrounding both – in the case of Holi, the Lord Krishna’s evil uncle, sent Putna, a female demon, with the hope that the boy would drink her poisonous milk. But the boy both drank the milk and sucked the demon’s blood dry, causing a large funeral pyre to be burnt for her. This is the reason for the red (color of fire) powder being thrown by devotees. They also remember the fun Krishna used to have playing songs with the female cowherds at Gokul. Finally the festival functions in India (though not in Fiji) as marking the end of and beginning of spring colors. Fire is not a foreign symbol in our Jewish-Christian tradition also; we can remember Yahweh’s going before his people in a pillar of fire (Ex 13:31), the fire of the holocaust sacrifices of the priests (Lev 6:5) and, of course, the ‘Holy Spirit’ fire of Pentecost (Acts 2:3).

At the feast of Diwali, Hindus celebrate the return of Ram and Sita to their kingdom after fourteen years of exile in Sri Lanka, and how the people lit diyas (lamps) on the road in their honor. This is a public holiday in Fiji, and for many years the Catholic Church has marked the occasion as a festival of “Christ the Light” for our Indian Christians and others. Hindi Masses are said, and we enjoy the sweets and fireworks.

In trying to broaden my own mind in these matters, I do value the words of Dom Bede Griffiths:

“O God you are in the Light, but you are not the Light,
because you are greater than all Light.
You are in all, but are not all,
because you are greater than all.
You are in Christ and you are Chirst,
because the fullness of your Divinity dwells in Christ,
our Way, our Truth, our Life, Light and Salvation.”

It is in the end Christ who impels us to reach out beyond our limits and see his face in a “thousand strange places.” Such is the challenge and privilege of sharing life in a multi-faith island. May Fiji long be such a harbor of tolerance.

Columban Fr. Patrick Colgan lives and works in Fiji.