Harmony of spring: Easter and Holi echo in the Nilgiris

Yenning *

Ah, Kotagiri. Nestled in the blue embrace of the Nilgiris, it's a place of ethereal beauty. Imagine rolling hills adorned with tea gardens, their colours a gentle symphony of light green. Silver-white jackfruit trees stand sentinel amidst them, and a mystical mist often hangs in the air, creating a playground for the sun.

The rains here are a unique experience - soft, spongy drops that caress your skin. The retreating monsoons, however, are a different story, unleashing their fury with howling winds and the occasional uprooted eucalyptus. But for the most part, gentle breezes, fleeting sunshine, and comforting coolness paint the climactic portrait of this charming hill station.

Every spring season, Kotagiri seemed to transform. The soft rains would cloak the tea gardens in an ethereal mist, and the scent of damp earth and wildflowers mingled with the aroma of brewing spices from the local stalls. During this magical time, nestled inside our cosy choir room, a whole new world of Easter celebrations unfolded for me.

Our choir teacher, a man of quiet humility and deep faith, was constantly at the piano. He'd either be composing new songs or perfecting classical hymns. We, a mischievous bunch of teenagers, would often visit his cosy cottage, lured by the promise of singing and the irresistible temptation of warm coffee and cake.

Mr. Benjamin, as we called him, saw through our motives with a knowing smile yet always welcomed us with open arms. In this haven of music and camaraderie, "The Old Rugged Cross" and "How Great Thou Art" became my favourites. While the first resonated with the profound sacrifice of Jesus, the latter soared with its majestic praise. The path to musical appreciation was occasionally paved with delicious treats!

A certain magic unfolded during choir practice, especially when we tackled the trickier parts Of hymns like "The Old Rugged Cross"." Atei's crystal-clear soprano voice would weave seamlessly with Esther's rich alto, creating harmonies that sent shivers down my spine.

Even David Zova, the class clown who usually had a wisecrack ready, couldn't help but be mesmerised. His voice, usually full of mischief, softened as he joined the chorus, captivated by the beautiful blend. The Mizos are great singers.

As Easter approached, the mood at school shifted. Lent, 40 days of quiet reflection, settled upon us. While senior students participated in communion services, the whole school learned about the significance of fasting and prayer during this time. Then came Holy Week, the final countdown to Easter Sunday. Each day held a special meaning, commemorating a specific event in Jesus' last week.

Palm Sunday was always a fun-filled affair. Mr. Sudhakar, our beloved physics teacher, would transform into a jubilant apostle for the day. Riding triumphantly into the schoolyard on a donkey, he'd lead us in singing "Jesus Came Riding on a Donkey," his booming voice echoing excitedly through the palms we waved.

The mood became sombre on Maundy Thursday as we remembered the Last Supper. We'd gather for a special supper with the principal, who would share the story of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. Good Friday was a day of quiet prayer and fasting for the believers. The sombre mood lingered through Holy Saturday, a day of waiting and anticipation before the glorious Easter celebration.

Leading up to Lent, choir practice became a delightful blend of learning and indulgence. We'd dive into the beautiful melodies of Easter hymns - the joyous "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" with its triumphant alleluias and the uplifting "He Lives" celebrating Christ's victory. There were more traditional hymns like "Crown Him with Many Crowns" and the powerful "Christ Arose."

Even my favourites, "The Old Rugged Cross" and "How Great Thou Art," found a new place in my heart during this time. And let's not forget the delicious perk: practising meant a chance to score some yummy coffee and cake from Mr Benjamin!

Easter always felt like a beautiful symphony at our school, perfectly timed with spring's arrival. Every year, around this season of renewal, Christians worldwide celebrate the joyous occasion of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

The date danced with the lunar calendar, making Easter Sunday a unique and exciting wait. It felt even more special because it coincided with spring's vibrant awakening, perfectly reflecting Easter's message of new beginnings.

Leading up to Easter, a spirit of quiet reflection settled upon us during Holy Week. We learned about the significance of Maundy Thursday, the Last Supper, and Good Friday, the day of Jesus' crucifixion. Then, Easter Sunday would burst forth, a joyous celebration of his triumph over death.

Easter traditions at our school were a delightful blend of the religious and the fun. Church services filled the air with beautiful hymns and stories of the resurrection. But it wasn't all solemn! Decorating eggs, a symbol of new life, was a messy but cherished tradition. The annual Easter egg hunt was a highlight. In this mad scramble, my Blue House emerged victorious, rewarded with overflowing baskets of treats.

And let's not forget the delicious perk - every Easter, our school's Portuguese heritage shone through in celebratory meals featuring roast lamb and springtime vegetables.

One Easter, our celebrations took a surprising turn. Mr Sudhakar, our class teacher, accepted the invitation from my classmate Santosh Nanjan's father, who was the village headman. We ventured out to experience Holi at Kerben with the Badaga tribe, known for their vibrant traditions.

Witnessing their joyous celebration - throwing coloured powder, dancing in the rain, and sharing meals - was a fascinating departure from our usual, more reserved Easter traditions. Nevertheless, beneath the revelry, there was a clear connection - both celebrations embraced the spirit of new beginnings. This unique experience broadened my understanding of religious festivals and became a cherished memory from Kotagiri.

Easter always left a profound mark on a non-Christian like me. It was a powerful reminder of hope, a time to believe in resilience and the transformative power of faith. Spring's vibrant return mirrored the message beautifully - a chance for new beginnings and the potential for positive change.

Whether you celebrated it religiously or enjoyed the spirit of renewal, Easter resonated with a message of hope that transcended borders.

This message of hope feels especially poignant for Manipur. Back home, the wounds of hurt and loss seem everpresent. But Easter rekindles a spark within me with its promise of a brighter future. It whispers that a world free from violence isn't just a dream but a possibility we can work towards. We have the power to create positive change.

Though the Meiteis of Manipur didn't celebrate Yaoshang, their spring festival, this year, it does not diminish the joy of Easter. The two festivals, though different, share beautiful commonalities. Yaoshang, like Easter, celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the arrival of spring. In secular terms, these are springtime celebrations.

As a central holiday in Christianity, Easter holds deep religious significance. Eggs symbolise new life, bunnies represent fertility, and the cross remind the believers of Jesus' sacrifice. Church services, decorated eggs, exciting egg hunts, and special meals - Easter is an event woven with faith and joyful traditions.

Learning about Holi from the Todas in Kotagiri added another layer of magic to our Easter celebrations. This vibrant Hindu festival, bursting with colour and joy, mirrors the spirit of Easter beautifully.

Yaoshang's bonfires symbolise burning away negativity, just like Good Friday's prayers cleanse one's soul. Throwing Coloured powder, a playful act of letting go, echoes the joyous spirit of Easter egg hunts. The lively music and dancing (Thabal Chongba) during Yaoshang hold a similar energy to the celebratory church hymns of Easter Sunday.

Despite their religious differences, both festivals culminate in delicious feasts shared with loved ones. Easter and Yaoshang, in their unique ways, celebrate the same core themes: renewal, new beginnings, and the triumph of light over darkness.

Easter and Yaoshang, like the vibrant spring season they coincide with, remind us that new beginnings are always possible, even in the face of darkness and despair. The message of hope that resonates through the Easter hymns and echoes in the joyous celebrations of Yaoshang is a powerful call.

Just as nature renews itself each spring, we, too, have the ability to create positive change in our world.

Perhaps, by embracing the spirit of Easter and Yaoshang - the spirit of renewal, compassion, and the triumph of light - we can work towards a brighter future for ourselves and everyone around us.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
You can contact the writer at hoiyenning(AT)proton(DOT)me
This article was webcasted on 02 April 2024 and corrected with Holi details at Kerben on 04 April

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