Dancing, snacks and juices, bonfires, and colored powder tosses are staples at Holi festivals and were all highlights of the five-hour celebration, sponsored by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Holi festivals are also known to attract large crowds; this year, almost 3,000 people attended the society’s festival.
“It’s a wild and fun cultural event that’s focused on spiritually uplifting themes, amazing colors, exotic music and some of the best food you’ve ever tasted,” said Anuttama Dasa, 58, who has been attending since the temple opened in 1975. “And it’s literally for people of all ages.”
As throngs of color-streaked friends clasped hands and danced through purple and green clouds in the temple’s public square, stage performers sang in kirtan — a call-and-response chanting of hymns and mantras to music — and kept feet moving. Mothers and children reclined on grassy hillsides and watched as lines formed for almond milk, cakes and platefuls of Indian vegetarian snacks.
“All of this is related to our culture — our Krishna consciousness. This is a very fun lifestyle, it’s a very vibrant lifestyle,” said Ramdas Shingdia, 25, moments before Chaitanya Prakash, 25, ambushed him with a smear of green powder to the cheeks. “And love!” he added. “This is love.”
For almost 40 years, the society has offered patrons daily prayer sessions based in Vaishnava Hinduism, which emphasizes bhakti devotion, an active involvement of devotees in worship through practices such as yoga and chanting. On Sundays, these sessions bring an average of 500 patrons to the temple.
But Holi festivals are a more overt expression of this type of worship, rooted not only in Hindu prayer, but also in folklore. The color throws and bonfires, for example, are mentioned in the earliest records of Holi festivals in seventh-century Sanskrit texts, and in tales of the deities Rama and Krishna.
“For some people, Holi is a simple spring festival,” said Ananda Vrindavan, 52, who helps manage temple operations as part of a nearly 20-person group that includes kitchen workers and gardeners. “But all celebrations start with stories,” she added. “And those stories change over the years, and those stories vary from place to place.”
In recent years, as social media and colorful fanfare have helped Holi festivals gain traction in the United States, some say American Holi festivals are downplaying Holi’s religious and spiritual history, putting more emphasis on its allure as a lively social event.
An increasing number of Holi-inspired color throws on American college campuses is also seen as a sign that Holi may be adopting more of a secular tone.