Roopa Shree is a Special Correspondent for usindiamonitor
In the small South Indian town where I grew up, the festival of Holi wasn’t exactly a big deal. That’s not to say that Udupi, Karnataka wasn’t festive. We knew how to put on a great show. The town had a world famous Krishna Temple, amongst many other temples, and Lord Krishna’s birthday was celebrated in a grand manner and on a far more epic scale than Holi was.
Holi was still recognized in a relatively small way. We used to see groups of 10 to 15 village farmers all dressed up in white with turbans, drums and other musical instruments singing village songs in their local dialect, going door to door to collect tips. As a tradition they used to lift up and carry the youngest ones in each household and dance. But there was no splashing of colored powders in our home town, which is what most people associate with the Holi festival.
India is like many countries rolled into one. In modern India, the traditional lines of culture, cuisine, dress, and language have blurred especially in its diverse cities. The colored powder version of Holi is today celebrated all over: on college campuses, temple grounds and street corners. And now, it’s gained some footing in the United States as well.
When we came to the United States in the early 70’s, not many Americans knew much about India or Hindu culture. I was pleasantly surprised when they showed International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) characters in American sitcoms such as All in the Family or Barney Miller. For many Americans, ISKCON was probably responsible for introducing Hinduism to them.
Fast forward to 2016. After moving to Salt Lake City from California, our friends the Kamaths took us to the ISKCON Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. What a sight.
We arrived to see a magnificent all white temple sitting on top of a hill on a serene 15 acres surrounded by gorgeous snow capped mountains…thanks to the unrelenting efforts of two devotees, Charu Dasa and Vaibhavi Devi. This lovely temple modeled after KUSUM SAROVAR of India is a must-see among the amazing and unusual places not just in Utah, but in all the United States. There are beautiful peacocks, llamas, and cows maintained by this temple. You can even rent the llamas for an outing in the mountain landscape. Every week, hundreds of visitors take the temple tour from senior groups to school children, from tourists to locals to get a glimpse of Hindu temple culture.
Wait. Is that right? A Hindu temple deep in Mormon country?
Yes, it’s true, and that’s not all. This temple nestled in the mountains hosts the biggest celebration of Holi in the entire world.
Holi, also known as the festival of colors and festival of love, has become a favorite amongst fun loving Indians, Americans, and others alike, celebrated across many American states these days during springtime including Las Vegas, NV on April 15, 2017, and Oceanside, CA on May 6, 2017, etc.
I finally got to see Holi in Spanish Fork in March with our friends the Gokarns. It was everything they said it would be and more. Such a well organized event, with paid parking spaces close to the temple, security, crossing guards, traffic police, and safe walking for kids and adults alike. Vendors were selling scarfs, colored powders, Indian snacks, and masks for the festivities.
There were thousands of people going in and out, all of them drenched in beautiful colors on their faces, hair and all over their bodies. For a second I thought, is this for real, am I in India or am I dreaming?!
We entered and merged with the huge crowd. Thousands of people were dancing merrily, music was projected by DJs singing along with the bands, little kids rode on mom and dad’s shoulders right in the middle of beautiful surroundings, while the white temple on the hill top glowed in the soft shadows cast by the sun.
There were yoga sessions, interactive fusion dances, live mantra bands, and food stalls. Everybody seemed to be in good mood around the open air amphitheater. So many smiling faces. How could you not smile in this atmosphere?
As I walked around trying to capture some pics on my iPhone, friendly people came over and before I knew it, they smeared and threw colored powder all over me. There was no escape for anyone, of any age.
The two days of Holi festival at Spanish Fork draws fun loving people from all around, including the bordering States of Idaho and Wyoming. Perhaps upward of 100,000 people, mostly Americans, attended and the festival continues to rise in popularity each year. Holi is traditionally a time for cleansing, renewal, and starting over. Everyone is an equal participant. It’s also a time to welcome people from any background who have a curiosity about Hinduism to learn more. Congratulations to ISKCON for putting on a great show.
Some festivals are too much fun to miss regardless of your background or religion. This is one of them, like Baisaki in California, Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Lilac Festival in Rochester, NY, Artichoke Festival in Castroville, CA, the Persimmon Festival in Indiana, or WOMAD in New Zealand. These things must be seen with your own eyes, and felt for yourself with all your senses. Take a bite out of life, one festival at a time. Come taste samosas and masala chais. Come enjoy the colors of Holi with your family and friends, to celebrate the arrival of spring in all its glory.
It’s springtime in America, year 2017. As the purple, pink, turmeric yellow, red gulal, and orange scented corn starch powders covered all the skins and clothes of thousands, white, black, brown, yellow, and all other types of human being all merged into one massive rainbow colored ocean of people!