Across north India, the brief season of spring weather erupts with the festival of Holi—a no-holds-barred celebration in the villages and city streets. Water-sprays everywhere, children throw coloured powder at each other, and soggy T-shirts and kurtas abound. It’s a holiday some girls experience as an equalising moment, a rare chance to play freely with boys. Other girls, though, view Holi warily—as a celebration that gives cover to sexual harassers. It’s a charged moment in the gender politics of Indian life, and in many communities the soundtrack to that experience is Rang barse, as performed by the Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan in a film from the 1980s.
The only atypical thing about this song is the strong-willed woman it celebrates: she’s over 500 years old. The film lyricist based it on a centuries-old song about Mirabai, a mystic poet of spiritual love and longing who lived during the 16th century and is today one of India’s most revered female saints.