Holi Hai! Indian-Americans, others, plan to celebrate the colorful festival from New York to Las Vegas and Utah to San Francisco

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Holi being celebrated in New Jersey, organized by Surati for Performing Arts and Education. (File photo)

One of the most joyful festivals in the Hindu calendar has become a popular gathering place for Americans of all ethnicities around the country over the last several years. And it stretches for several months through the year, becoming also a business proposition for enterprising individuals and companies.

Holi is such a unique Hindu festival and it has such a powerful message of one-ness, and the victory of good over evil — in the story of the purity of the boy Prahlad, and the burning of Holika, says Suhag Shukla, founder and executive director of Hindu American Foundation.

Around the country, not only do Indian-Americans celebrate Holi through their many community organizations and temples, but with its attractive people-friendly image, the festival has brought businesses eager to hold  events that require an entrance fee.

“I’m busy right now helping organize three Holi-related festivals in New Jersey,” says Ved Chaudhary, founder of Educators Society for Heritage of India – March 18th is Vasant Mahotsav or the Hindu New Year; then his Hindi teaching school has a celebration on April 21, followed one week later on April 28, by Phaag, or color play at another event. “Diwali came early this year (March 1) so it’s hard to hold the playful events out in the cold, which is why it is delayed,” Chaudhary explains.

Barsana Dham, on Barsana Road in Austin, Texas, one of the largest temples in this country, began celebrating Holi in the 1990s. Named after Lord Krishna’s closest, most loving devotee, Radha, it celebrates Holi with the abandon that it was meant to signify — that combination of playfulness along with spirituality. Named after Radha’s birthplace in India, the temple in Austin even sports peacocks strutting around the compound.

“Here in America, at Radha Madhav Dham, Holi is played in the same style as it is in Braj district of India – with the same colorful, playful, family-filled fun and devotion,” says the temple about its scheduled March 3 event. “Each spring the Austin Community looks forward to this joyous celebration of Holi, the festival of colors,” it adds.

Community organizations and temples in Florida, Texas and California are able to celebrate Holi closer to the real date because the weather becomes bearably warm.

There was a time when Holi was not as ubiquitous as it has become now where in almost every university with an Indian students association, Holi has become part of the annual calendar. Shukla and Chaudhary pointed to growing second generation interest and participation in the festival.

But there was a time when even Indians who lived here did not know the dates, because they were not only few and far between, but also did not call their families as often as social media enables them today.

This is the 22nd year that Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah, is going to be celebrating Holi March 24 and 25, perhaps the largest and among the oldest mainstream-type of celebrations of the festival. Close to 30,000 people attend  over the two days, Charu, the manager of the festival, told News India Times. It started in a modest way in 1998, and the rest is history, he says, but also because the temple changed the way it is celebrated.

“We treat it in our innovative way. We made a few changes so it would arc over to a Western audience,” he said. “That includes 1. introducing the “throw” when people have a countdown from 10 to 1, and throw gulal; 2. we invite everybody en masse to one area, like a concert; and 3. we do have a bit of Bollywood, but only 20 percent. The rest is high-energy kirtan and dance – sort of like a rave with with kirtan. And no drugs or alcohol allowed,” Charu detailed. Many DJs participate and dance beats rule.

Showing appreciation for the festival and sharing a culture is a positive thing, says Shukla, though she worries Holi, like yoga, is being appropriated without acknowledging its Hindu roots.

“Our celebration (of Holi) increases the meaning of intimacy of relationships rather than things. The day is dedicated to loving people. And it all comes from Krishna, from God,” says Charu. It also signifies that “Spiritual life is not sour and dour, but rather – full of life. We introduce the spirit of Krishna with yogurt fights, peacocks … . It’s an antidote to the divisiveness in America today,” Charu adds.

Considered one of the most multicultural cities in the world, the Big Apple almost routinely holds numerous celebrations. Apart from numerous community events in the tri-state area, and including Pennsylvania, one has paid events. For example, on March 11 and 17, In New York City, “Holi In The City” will be held on West 48th Street in Manhattan. One has to pay more than $30, to attend it. There’s another one on March 31. And NYCholi.com is holding its extravaganza May 18, at Governor’s Island, on New York Harbor.  The organizers say that, “With its universal inclusivity and the message of love, Holi has become a widespread phenomenon across the world,” words that Indian-Americans echo.

The breadth of its spread is evident from a calendar on nycholi.com — Riverside, California on March 3; Los Angeles — March 10 and 11; Spanish Fork, Utah– March 24 and 25; Las Vegas- April 14; San Francisco Valley – April 28; Oceanside – May 12; Ogden, Utah – May 26; Salt Lake City, Utah- June 9; and way later on Oct. 6 in Reno, Nevada.

Since Holi is falling on a cold March 1 and even otherwise at a colder time of the year, Indian-Americans sometimes pick a day in Summer to celebrate it. “When we lived in Minnesota, we would pick a date in May,” recalls Shukla.

“Holi (and Diwali) are festivals that will only grow in this country,” according to Chaudhary, and more than Diwali, Holi is becoming a community event not restricted to the community.

“Now our children bring their friends to celebrate,” and second generation youth have taken up organizing, say Chaudhary and Shukla. “Holi is becoming a popular event where the general public participates in the fun and frolic – an Indian version of the Mardi Gras – and Americans of every color love that,” Chaudhary said.