Last year, I attended the Festival of Colors at the Sri Sri Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. The folks at the temple report that theirs is the largest Festival of Colors in the Americas. Last year, some fifty thousand people attended the Festival.
Holi, as its known, is a Hindu spring festival. There are specific religious meanings to the festival that I won't try to delve into since I don't understand them. But there is something about the festival that I do understand. When I first heard about it, Caru Das from the Sri Sri Krishna temple was speaking and he said, "God loves diversity."
We are present at this celebration in all our diversity, he declared.
I'll dance to that.
After last year's festival, my friends and I - covered in colored powder, our faces transformed into a mask of bright colors - laughed until we cried. Then we laughed some more. The Festival in Spanish Fork is glorious mayhem. Fantastic live music, great bands, and thousands of people in a good mood laughing and throwing color in the air and smearing on one another. The temple sells thousands of bags of color - last year I heard they sold one hundred thousand bags of color - made from natural ingredients. The powder is scented with natural herbs and fills the air with an intoxicating smell; the music, the people, the mood contribute to a natural high that lasts for days.
I took the youth group from my UCC congregation. We had a crazy good time. Picture, if you can, a group of twenty four people - six adults and 18 teenagers - driving an hour each way to listen to Krishna rock and throw colored powder on each other. Most of wisely wore white. As a result, the colors were even more vibrant. After three throwings, however, the colors started to blend into an unlovely brownish pink. Except in our hair and on our faces which were covered with splashes of color.
At the end of our visit, we were hungry and exhilarated. We drove away you could see the airy and beautiful temple on its hilltop surrounded by a thinning crowd. And floating over it, a pale pink cloud of powder. In every direction, you could see a faint bright hue on cars and trees and thousands of revelers. In the minivan, I had six middle school girls and me. We stopped for snacks at a gas station, got drinks, and headed home. On the drive home, we bonded - we shared thoughts and ideas and experiences that we hadn't felt safe to share before. We connected with one another. It was powerful and real. A few days later, several Spanish Fork residents wrote angry comments in respose to the local papers' stories on the festival.
To get an idea of the impact of this festival, you need to understand that Spanish Fork is a semi-rural suburb of Provo, which is in many ways a suburb of Salt Lake City. Local vendors seems to regard the Festival-goers with an uneasy mix of dislike and like. Yes we bring a lot of money, but when ten people covered in colored powder traipse through your establishment, they leave a trail. Local businesses range from the overtly hostile (hand-lettered signs reading "No Bathrooms for Festival of Colors") through the rueful acceptance (signs reading "Please don't wash colors down the bathroom sink - they clog the drains") to the thoroughly welcoming with spare sheets spread over seats and benches to make festival goers visits low impact and easy on every one.
Residents in Spanish Fork react the same way - some welcome it, others dread it but figure its only two days and others resent the whole thing. Folks at the temple do their best to make the event low impact on the community but it's a small town and fifty thousand people in a weekend have an unavoidable impact.
When I got home from the Festival, I stood on the porch for a few minutes trying to decide what to do. I didn't want to traipse all over the house with color. But I wanted a shower. The color dyes your hair for about a day. For three days I was digging color out of my ears and sneezing purple. The bottom of my shower had to be bleached. It was the most fun you can have in Utah county.
And it's still two weeks away and I feel like a kid before Christmas. I'm anxious to be there, to hear the music, to smell the natural scent of the color, to dance at the festival of colors.