Members of the Friends of India registered student organization invited UA and local community members to mingle, sample traditional Indian food and play with colorful powders April 30 at the Holi Festival of Colors in Wilson Park.
Apoorva Bisht, president of the Friends of India RSO, said the group usually organizes two religious celebrations featuring colors each year, but it took a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time since 2019, group members presented their signature Holi event, which Bisht thought closely resembled traditional iterations in India, she said.
Holi is an ancient Hindu festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. The holiday stems from the Hindu religious story of the devil king Hiranyakashipu, who forbade his pious son Prahlad from worshiping the god Vishnu. When Prahlad defied him, his father sat him on a pyre with Prahlad’s aunt Holika, who was immune to fire, but with Vishnu’s grace, Prahlad came out unscathed.
The Holi celebration, which lasts for two days, also marks the arrival of spring and is associated with harvest. It starts on the night of a full moon, known as Poormina, on which a pyre called Holika Dahan is lit. The celebration’s main festivities begin the next morning.
“Before the proper Holi celebration, we have something called Holika Dahan,” Bisht said. “On that day, we have a fireplace as a symbol of small hell surrounded by people who throw certain things on this fire and recite specific prayers, and the following day we play with colors.”
Pranav Mahesh, a freshman, found out about the Holi Festival because he follows Friends of India on social media and decided to attend, he said.
“It feels good to have this Indian atmosphere here in Fayetteville,” Mahesh said. “I met new people and had fun with them. Also, I invited many of my friends to participate in this Holi Festival to have a good time together.”
The moment attendees entered the park, they were met with community members of multiple ethnicities and nationalities playing with colorful powder, talking and laughing. A table set up in the middle of the festival featured Indian food and drinks for participants to taste.
Almost 60 people from countries including the U.S., Bolivia and several Asian nations attended the Holi Festival by the end of the day.
Lukas Vaughan, a UA junior, found out about the Holi event from one of his friends, and because he has spent some time in India, he was already familiar with the festival and its origins. Vaughan was excited to see the festival celebrated in America, something he had never witnessed before, he said.
“I really enjoyed the food and the traditional Indian drinks,” Vaughan said. “It is awesome when I see people gathered spreading love and having fun. It is fun to connect with people from India and learn about their culture.”
Vaughan would encourage his other American friends to participate in events such as the Holi Festival of Colors that are designed to help UA students learn about and celebrate different cultures, he said. He thinks these events promote diversity and cultural competency in the UA community.
“I want to be more involved with organizations like these and also encourage people to come and educate themselves about new cultures from all over the world,” Vaughan said. “I want to thank Friends of India because they did an excellent job organizing this Holi Festival.”