Festival of Colors, traditionally known in India as Holi, is a spring festival inspired by Lord Krishna’s pastimes 5,000 years ago, when He and the cowherd girls and boys of Vrindavana playfully celebrated with colored dyes.
While the festival has not historically been a part of ISKCON’s large repertoire of spiritual festivals, it has gradually become more and more of a staple especially in North America, where it has proven to be wildly successful in introducing the public – especially young students – to Krishna consciousness in a fun, accessible way.
It all started back in 1997, when Charu Das, president at the temple in Spanish Fork, Utah cautiously invited the public to join the devotees in celebrating Holi.
While the festival is celebrated with gleeful abandon in India, Charu was was unsure about how his Western guests would react. So he tread carefully at first, requesting visitors’ permission before throwing powdered colors at them.
One day, however, as he was asking permission of a student from the local Brigham Young University, an Indian congregation member walked in, scooped colors out of Charu’s bowl, and plastered the student with them.
“I was shocked and held my breath,” Charu recalls. “But both the student and the congregation member began laughing, and after a couple of beats, I joined them.”
The rest is history. For the first few years, the festival built slowly. By 2007 the number of attendees had risen from just 100 to 3,000. But in 2008 attendance took a giant leap to 10,000, and today, an unbelievable 50,000 people – a huge amount of them Caucasian Americans, including Brigham Young students – participate.
Holi in Spanish Fork, Utah (Photo courtesy of unelibanaiseaparis.com)
This year, there will be a two-day Festival of Colors at the Krishna temple in Spanish Fork on Saturday March 29th and Sunday March 30th. Shuttle buses will shuttle thousands from the Spanish Fork Fairgrounds to the temple.
There, a packed schedule of rock, dance, funk and bhajan bands, including Jai Krishna and Ananda Groove, The Kirtaniyas, and the Gosh Brothers will lead the crowds in chanting Hare Krishna at the top of their lungs, dancing, and hurling clouds of bright colors into the air every hour. It’s a phenomenon that has to be seen to be believed.
The festival also features a secondary stage, where attendees can be free of color and watch Bhakti dances and bhajans with the Temple Bhajan Band, and participate in yoga classes.
Festival of Colors Utah is an unstoppable behemoth, spawning another event at the Utah Krishnas satellite center in Salt Lake City, which will be held on May 3rd this year.
But others have begun to jump on the bandwagon too, and quickly experience success.
In 2010, the ISKCON temple in Potomac, a suburb of Washington DC, began holding their own Festival of Colors. Starting out with a couple of hundred attendees just like Utah’s, it is expected to draw over 3,000 people on April 5th this year.
As D.C. is a highly multicultural city, attendees will be about sixty per cent Indian American, and forty per cent from a variety of other cultures.
Because of the festival’s growing popularity, this year shuttle buses will shuttle the crowds from a nearby covered parking garage, and there will be added security.
Attendees will chant along with hip-hop artist Srikalogy and kirtan group The Hanumen, featuring ISKCON devotees Gaura Vani and Purusartha and kirtan artists Benjy Wertheimer and John De Kadt.
They’ll enjoy a variety of prasadam options, including a thali plate and snacks such as veggie kebabs and cinnamon rolls. They’ll visit special tents to learn mantra meditation and purchase Indian and spiritual clothes and goods. And they’ll go into the temple room to pay their respects to the presiding Deities of Sri Sri Radha Madan-Mohan.
“A new thing we’re going to do this year will be to provide candles for guests to offer when they come into the temple room, where the altar will be beautifully decorated for Holi,” says community president Ananda Vrindavaneshwari Dasi. “It will provide people who are here for the first time with an opportunity to engage with Krishna a little bit.”
And finally, of course, there will be the colors.
“We want people to experience happiness that triggers in them the sense that they’re more than just the body,” Ananda says. “When you get color all over you, you relax a little bit, and it doesn’t matter how you look.”
She hopes to continue providing people with a quality festival every year. “We see Holi as a great way to introduce people to the lifestyle of Krishna consciousness, in a very easy, entry-level way,” she continues. “So we hope that it becomes more and more popular, and that we can share Krishna and the wonderful philosophy of Bhakti Yoga through this and other festivals.”
Next up on Saturday April 12th, the new kid on the block, Alachua, will celebrate the Festival of Colors.
The largest ISKCON community in North America, rural Alachua was inspired to put on its own Holi when president Mukhya Dasi heard about the success of Utah and other centers.
In 2013, Alachua put on its first Festival of Colors, drawing around 1,000 people from all across Florida, even as far as Miami.
This year, with a promotional website, Facebook page, a yoga journal article and posters in nearby cities Jacksonville, Lake City, Tampa, Ocala and Orlando, Mukhya expects at least 1,500 to 2,000.
People will gather in the large field at the front of the ISKCON Alachua temple property, where they’ll dance, chant, and throw colors along with a different band every hour from 12pm to 4pm. Hip-hop artists Srikalogy, Azitiz and Krishnatone, kirtan group The Mayapuris, and hardcore punk band First Priority will all bring their different flavors of energy to the stage.
When they’re hungry, attendees will get to tuck into a full prepaid prasadam meal or snacks such as pizza and other baked goods. And they’ll be able to visit the yoga tent for yoga classes, or the Bhakti-yog atent to learn more about Krishna consciousness and take a book with them. Many are also expected to visit the Deities in the temple.
“I hope the festival will help people get to know us better here at the Hare Krishna temple in Alachua, and I hope they’ll have a fun and enjoyable time while chanting Hare Krishna,” says president Mukhya Dasi. Like Ananda Vrindavana, she expects the festival to keep growing in attendance in the future.
Devotees in the New Vrindaban community in the hills of West Virginia – the very first rural community established by ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada – are also gearing up for not one, but two Holi festivals this year.
On April 19th, they will put on a Festival of Colors in Pittsburgh in neighboring state Pennsylvania. Held at Schenley Park, two minutes’ walk from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, it’s expected to draw 5,000 students.
Of course New Vrindaban devotees will also hold a Festival of Colors on their own property much later in the year, on September 13th.
New Vrindaban began their Festival of Colors in 2012, drawing 1,100 people. But after a blitz of advertising in local universities, newspapers, TV and radio, 6,000 are expected this year.
New Vrindaban’s color and music party will feature Titiksava Karunika Das and his band Namrock, as well as the Mayapuris, the Gosh Brothers, Srikalogy and Ananda Groove. And just like the other temples, they’ll use the festival as an opportunity to distribute prasadam and Srila Prabhupada’s books.
The festival draws mainly young American students, and in the past given attendees such a taste for chanting Hare Krishna that they have also visited New Vrindaban for its 24 Hour Kirtan later in the year.
What’s more, as at other Holi festivals, New Vrindaban’s Festival of Colors has also done wonders for public relations.
“Now when New Vrindaban residents go out shopping in the local town, Moundsville, they often get big smiles and comments like, “Oh you’re from the Hare Krishna temple? I’m coming to Festival of Colors this year!” says organizer Vrindavana Das.
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For more information about the Festival of Colors in Utah, please visit Utahkrishnas.org.
To find out more about the festival in Washington D.C., visit Holidc.com, or visit the Holi DC page on Facebook.
To learn about Festival of Colors Florida, visit festivalofcolorsfla.com or the “Festival of Colors Florida” Facebook page.
And to find out more about the festivals in New Vrindaban and Pittsburgh, please visit festivalofcolors.us[ colors ] [ festivals ] [ holi ] [ usa ]