On March 31, the Acadiana Indian Association hosted its eighth annual Lafayette Holi Festival in Girard Park, welcoming citizens of all ages to gather in their whitest clothes, which they promised would not stay that way.
Holi Festival is an Indian festival dedicated to celebrating the arrival of spring and relationships with friends and family.
“Rain or shine, we play Holi,” said Prabhakar Vemavarapu, an AIA member in charge of entertainment. Vemavarapu is an India-native studying in Lafayette for his master’s degree and was formerly the president of AIA.
In India, according to Vemavarapu, the festival begins the night before Holi with a bonfire called Holika Dahan. Members of the community gather around the fire and say prayers to burn away the evil spirit of the same name. The next day, the country (and many others) gather on the streets to celebrate new life and a new beginning on Holi.
“The whole country is colorful,” Vemavarapu said of the festival.
Lafayette Holi Festival promised much of the same in fun, friends, family and food.
The festival kicked off with a prayer that would explain to all the guests what the event was about.
“We like to celebrate obviously with the color play but what that really represents is the blending of all our community, especially down here in south Louisiana. We have a rich variety of culture, family and food,” the priest said to the waiting crowd, just barely dappled in the colors of children anxious to get started. “So that’s what we’re going to do here today. We’re going to celebrate all those things and we’re going to do it by looking alike in all this rainbow.
“Holi hai!” the priest said as he grabbed a handful of color in preparation for the long-awaited moment.
The crowd counted down with the festival officials, the air already dusted with the beginnings of a promised cloud of color. With one final shout, the crowd threw massive handfuls of colors into the air, forming a cloud where only shadows were recognizable.
Color throws throughout the event were inescapable and took everyone, including myself, by surprise. Family, friends and complete strangers made sure to toss colored powder, made from cornstarch and food coloring, on anyone passing by who looked just a little too clean.
“Happy Holi!” the passerby would say cheerfully.
Along with the colors, music plays throughout the event, an eclectic mix of Indian music and the latest hits in hip-hop. Food was served in a circle around the area of the park. Guests could enjoy the usual fare of pizza and snowballs or try a little something new with Indian dishes such as lemon rice, samosa and biryani.
The stage also welcomed Bollywood dancers and any guests eager to show off their moves.
As the afternoon went on, not a soul, big or small, found a colorless place and families left with big smiles and clothes patterned in bright blues, reds, yellows and pinks.