India burst with color Monday, March 17, as Hindus observed the playful festival of Holi by dashing each other with brightly colored powder.
Americans partake of the spring festival, too. But at the largest Holi festival in the United States, the majority of participants won’t be Hindus — they’ll be Mormons.
“In Utah, if you go anywhere and mention the Festival of Colors to anybody, they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about and their face will light up,” said Caru Das, priest at Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah, and the main organizer of the town’s Holi celebration, known as the Festival of Colors, which will be celebrated this year on March 29 and 30.
Spanish Fork, about 10 miles south of Provo and Brigham Young University, has been home to a congregation of Hare Krishna devotees since 1982. They started hosting Holi celebrations in 1989. When festival organizers introduced rock bands into the mix, the thousands of young students up the road began to take notice. Das said the first few festivals had about 300 attendees; a few years later it was 3,000, then 10,000. In recent years, the numbers have been close to 70,000, spread out over two days.
“It’s one of the biggest events” in the area, said Garrett Gray, a Mormon and a sophomore business management major at BYU. “I’d say a huge majority of students go.”
Festival organizers have found a niche serving young people who want to have fun, but without the alcohol or drug use associated with other kinds of rock concerts or large festivals, Das said.
“It kind of worked out ideally,” Das said. “They can actually express themselves spiritually without the taint of unwanted activities going on in the same venue.”
While Mormon students make up a large portion of the crowd at the Spanish Fork Festival of Colors, they are not the only demographic represented. Sonal Yadav moved to Utah to pursue a master’s in business administration at BYU. A Hindu, raised in New Delhi, she said Holi has always been her favorite holiday.
Yadav said she was thrilled to discover Spanish Fork had a Holi festival. “I went both days,” she said. “I had a blast. I really enjoyed myself!”
In India, most Hindus celebrate Holi with spontaneous games between friends or neighbors, so Yadav said Spanish Fork’s festival, which has a $3 admission fee, a concert stage and a formal countdown to kick off the color throwing, is not exactly like home. But the friendly and fun atmosphere, she said, is the same.
Aug 06, 2022
Brahmatirtha das Director, Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies