Of Church Color Runs and Hindu Holi Festivals

This week I've been writing about rituals and practices that Christianity has imported from pagan religions, specifically, coloring mandalas. Here is a list of these practices I've mentioned or written in the past months--

--Prayer beads (Catholic, Buddhist)
--Coloring mandalas (Buddhist, Hindu)
--Bible art journaling, (Celtic, Islamic Illumination)
--Labyrinths  (Catholic, goddess religions)
--Circle making (Wicca, earth religions)
--Contemplative prayer (Eastern religions, New Age cults)
--Lectio Divina (Mystic Religions, Catholic)
--Yoga (Hindu)

A freiend made me aware of another Hindu practice that is popping up in Christian activity schedules. It's "The Color Run." Many churches sponsor a 5K run for fun, health, or fundraising. This is great. These runs are a lot of fun and bring the community together. However, The Color Run has a specific feature added to it specifically ripped from a Hindu festival.

In "The Color Run, The Happiest 5K on the Planet", as it dubs itself, runners are doused with colored powder at various locations during the run. The US Company describes The Color Run-

The Color Run, also known as the Happiest 5k on the Planet, is a unique paint race that celebrates healthiness, happiness, and individuality. Now the single largest event series in the world, The Color Run has exploded since our debut event. We have more than tripled our growth, hosting more than 225 events in 35+ countries in 2015.
The Color Run, Tempe Arizona
Is The Color Run terrible in and of itself? Of course not. However, churches are now doing The Color Run and they should know that the Paint Race is certainly NOT "unique" as they stated. It is actually a Hindu festival and has been performed as a ritualistic celebration of victory of good over evil for two thousand years. Named Holi, the festival is
a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colours.
Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika bonfire where people gather, do religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil should be destroyed as the bonfire starts. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi - a free-for-all carnival of colours. where participants play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight.

Holi celebration at Sri Radha Krishna Temple, Utah, US. Wikipedia
Here is the explanation of why colors are used in the Holi celebration. It's convoluted, but it gives a sense of the deep pagan origins of this ritual. In sum, Holi is short for "Holika", the evil sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu. The demon king began to grow arrogant, thought he was God, and ordered everyone to worship only him. There was battle between those who were loyal to demon king Hiranyakashipu and those loyal to Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu's own son was loyal to Vishnu and as a result he was cruelly tortured by Hiranyakashipu. Hiranyakashipu's evil sister Holika tricked her nephew Prahlada into sitting on a pyre, while she was encased in a cloak that made her immune to the flames. But the cloak flew off her and onto Prahlada, and thus Holi was burned and Prahlada survived. Some other Lords and gods arrived to finish the deal and vanquish the usurper Hiranyakashipu. The next day, when the fire had cooled down, people applied ash to their foreheads. Eventually, coloured powder instead of ash came to be used to celebrate Holi.

The problem comes when churches mindlessly adopt this activity without knowing it is actually an important Hindu spring ritual. First Christian Church of Dyersburd wrote in their promotion of their "Color Run,"

How does a color run work?
All runners start out squeaky clean, decked out in white garb. During the run, color stations will be set up periodically throughout the course. At each color station, our "highly skilled" and "highly trained" paint throwers will toss paint powder on the runners going by. Note: do not slow down or stop in the color stations, as this causes a bottleneck for the runners behind you. Throughout the race, you'll be painted several times in several colors, resulting in a highly hued, highly energized runner. Once the race is over, all participants will gather for a mass paint throwing (think Lebron James meets Rainbow Bright). Afterwards, stick around for a celebration including food & drink, music, and hundreds upon hundreds of selfies.
I am not judging anyone who has participated in a Color Run. I would hope that Churches would not adopt the Hindu celebration of Holi as a Western version of a celebration/festival/5K run. However most of the church sites that I have looked at do conclude the Color Run afterwards with food, music, dancing, and other frolics, making the Hindu Holi Fest and the Church 5K virtually indistinguishable. Please refer to the photos above of the Hindu Fest and the Church Color Run if you disagree.

I'm not against fun, but adopting a Hindu practice to have that fun is allowing the world to enter the Church. We can have our own fun as Christians, without the unnecessary layer of a pagan festival. My personal opinion is that churches should not adopt this ritual, and if they do, they should let their people know its origins so their people can make informed decisions as to whether or not to participate.

Do not worship the Lord your God in the way the pagan people worship their gods (Deuteronomy 12:4).

Thoppu Karanam in India
AKA 'Super Brain Yoga' in US
As for the practice of ripping off another culture's practices, that is another discussion entirely. Last year when the Hindu Practice of Thoppu Karanam was ripped from Hindu Prayer Practices and re-made into American Super Brain Yoga, one Hindu man opined,
The legend behind "Thoppu Karanam" is that Lord Vishnu performed this "Thoppu Karanam" in front of Lord Ganapathi to recover his "Sudarshan Chakra" which was snatched by Ganapathi. Thus, Thoppu Karanam is performed as a prayer before Lord Ganesha by holding the hands crosswise across the chest with the fingers holding the earlobes and bending down and then getting up. 
Interestingly, the "Thoppu Karanam" has now attained international status thanks to fellow Americans who now call this as "Super Brain Yoga". They have found through medical research that doing these special kind of sit ups while holding the opposite earlobes stimulates the brain power and increases the memory power. I hope they will not charge us while we perform Thoppu Karanam.
Satan is the most cunning and subtle animal in the Garden. (Genesis 3:1), His wiles are legendary. Ephesians 6:11 says "Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil," Should t we be doing our utmost not to mirror the world? Shouldn't we be working hard to be a distinct people, and not engage in even what seems like a pagan ritual, never mind an actual pagan ritual? How many times were the Israelites warned not to delve into the pagan practices in Egypt? (Lev 18:3). Idol worship was a powerful temptation, and it still is.

The Expository Files explain:
Our English word 'wiles' is generally used to express deception through trickery and includes all the methods that would be part of that. It has to do with cunning or skill applied to no good purpose. The word ruse is a synonym with stress on the creation of a false impression.
Ephesians 4:14 says "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."

Gills reminds us of how stealthily satan brings his wiles to bear in "cunning craftiness",
which not only suggests that their principal end in view is to deceive, but their insidious, private, and secret way of deceiving, and their expertness in it, which they have from the devil; and now the ministration of the Gospel is the best and surest guard and antidote against such fluctuations and deceptions. 
Please read the rest of the Bible.org essay above to learn more fully just how satan uses his wiles to trick us - and be sure that importing pagan rituals into Christianity is one such wile - and read how we can stand against such an enemy.


Further Reading:

Should a Christian participate in a 'Color Run?'

Which is the Holi Celebration and Which is the Color Run?

© Western New Mexico University

Mumbai, India
Church Color Run