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Holi Moley: Utah to Celebrate Festival of Colors

By: for The Daily Herald (Utah, USA) on March 28, 2009
Getting to throw handfuls of brightly colored powder at a 15,000-strong crowd also seems too good to be true, so what's the catch?

No catch. In celebration of the Indian Holi Festival, also known as the Festival of Colors, the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork opens its doors to celebrants of all types -- from full-blooded Indians with an understanding of Holi, to ne'er-do-wells who simply get a kick out of chucking dyed flour at strangers.

It's all part of the festival, which celebrates the coming of spring with bright colors, music, dancing and worship.

"Reverence is not necessarily synonymous with somber," said Charu Das, the event organizer and the temple's co-founder. "God has emotions. If we're being celebratory, we're not being irreverent."

Thus Das encourages visitors to reverence the festival by having as much fun as possible, enjoying the live rock 'n' blues band, bonfires, dancing and the famous throwing of the colors.

"You can increase your love for your friends or get back at your enemies all at the same spot," Das joked. "I don't know if it's because of the former reason or the latter, but I really get plastered on that day."

About 10,000 guests attended the festival last year, and Das expects at least 5,000 more this year, with two different Facebook groups already boasting 5,000 confirmed guests each.

With that many targets, the color battle promises to be epic. The temple has prepared 25,000 bags of color for guests to purchase.

The throwing of the colors "goes from clean, no color, then the next second, boom, this cloud that's like an atom bomb just went off," said Scott Jarvie, a professional Utah photographer who covered the event last year. Jarvie, like other guests who preferred to stay out of the mayhem, watched the dustup from the "color-free" temple veranda.

"Last year, the sound system was overwhelmed by the number of people, so we weren't able to give the protocol," Das said. "We couldn't give the context to it. This year, we're ready."

According to the temple's Web site, the name Holi comes from Holika, the name of a demoness who tried to burn a small boy for praying to Lord Vishnu. By divine intervention, Holika was burned instead, and an effigy in her likeness is burned during the festival in commemoration.

Yet Das believes the festival is spiritually beneficial regardless of intellectual or theological background, likening it to feeling the warm glow of a fire without understanding how fire works. It will augment whatever kind of love of God you bring to the event, he said.

"Krishna means all-attractive," Das said. "Whatever quality any other name of God may refer to, be it his strength or knowledge, at the end of the day he's all-attractive, and this is considered to be the highest nomenclature for God."

Hence the Hare Krishna chant following the color throwing is robust and joyous, even among a crowd full of members of other religions. A rock 'n' blues band leads the chant using traditional Hare Krishna words, if not traditional Indian instruments.

"We play danceable, hopping stuff," said Joel Bradford, a Utah Valley University professor who plays harmonica in the chant band. "We play things like ZZ Top while we're doing the Krishna chant. It doesn't have a specific format, so you can just as easily chant it to rock 'n' roll as you can traditional Indian music."

The chant is Das's favorite part of the event, and he encourages guests to participate using whatever name for God they please.

Melissa Carlson, a 22-year-old Brigham Young University-Idaho student who visited the festival for the first time last year, said at first the chant was a little uncomfortable, but mainly due to its novelty. Then again, "I've never celebrated a season before, either," she said. She soon warmed up to it all and joined in the fun.

Das encouraged guests to arrive early for good parking spots and to get in line for color bags, as well as to enjoy the many other cultural activities, including a Balinese gamelan concert and traditional Indian food and dance.

For detailed information and tips regarding the Holi Festival, visit www.utahkrishnas.com.
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