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March 15, 2014

Indian tradition welcomes colors of spring

Children enjoy ‘Holi’ festival

TERRE HAUTE — One little corner of Deming Park got some spring colors Saturday morning when community members gathered to “play Holi,” an important tradition in India.

About a dozen children — and more than 10 adults — cheerfully rubbed natural, colorful powder on faces and threw it at anyone and everyone before shouting, “Happy Holi!”

Holi is an ancient festival in India that announces the beginning of the spring season. It is known as the Festival of Merrymaking or Festival of Colors.

Just as thousands of people in India celebrated Holi this week, people from various backgrounds gathered Saturday in Terre Haute for the cultural exchange event, organized by India Association of Terre Haute.

Before playing Holi, Shikha Bhattacharyya, president of the association, gave the kids an introduction to the event. She said the festival of Holi welcomes spring.

And then she asked the kids, “What does spring bring?”

“Colors!” was the answer.

As Indian music played in the background, 3-year-old Diarmuid Corcoran said “Happy Holi!” before throwing a bowl full of yellow powder over the head of  Bhattacharyya’s 4-year-old son, Ayush. In a matter of minutes, the children and adults were filled with colors — red, yellow, pink and green — from head to toe.

A reporter even got her fair share of colors after Ayush, at one point, threw a handful of powder at her, which landed squarely on her face.

It was a celebration of an Indian tradition and an effort to spread cultural understanding.

Sandan Kumar, cultural secretary for the association, said the event fosters cultural exchange and learning among people of different backgrounds. Kids were invited to the event to show diversity and to teach them about a culture different from their own, he said.

“So tomorrow, when the kids grow up, they can share something different in their lives,” Kumar said.

Terre Haute resident Rachel Hellmann took her family to the event to experience a part of another culture.

She wants her two kids to “understand that we have a big world.”

“And experiencing this first-hand in our community is important,” she added.

 In addition to other community members, a local cub scout group also went to play Holi.

“For the outside world, it looks like people just throwing color [powders],” Kumar said. In reality, it is “the way we welcome spring.”

“It’s an important culture we follow back home in India,” he said.

And it is something that parents from India hope to pass on to their kids.

Diarmuid’s mom, Namita Goswani, has fond memories of Holi as a child in New Delhi, India.

“Holi is my favorite festival, aside from the Festival of Lights,” Goswani, a professor at Indiana State University, said.

“I remember it very fondly from childhood, and I want my son to participate in an important Indian festival.”

Pictures from Saturday’s event, she said, will be sent to “grandma” in India.

And attendees were happy that this tradition was brought to Terre Haute.

“I think it’s fantastic seeing different cultural events in Terre Haute and being able to experience different sorts of celebrations,” Hellmann said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299.

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