Colorful Indian celebration greets spring, honors culture

Ada Simanduyeva

An array of colorful ethnic clothes coupled with traditional dancing and singing marked the celebration of the Indian holiday Holi, which signifies the beginning of spring and the triumph of good over evil.
More than 500 people filed into Willey Hall on Saturday night for the Festival of Colors, organized by the Indian Student Association and Hindu Mandir.
Vijay Agarwal, president of the association, said the purpose of the event is not to promote the holiday’s religious aspects but rather to set up a cultural show. Uniting the Indian community and educating people not familiar with Indian culture were also key to the event.
“The importance of the show is for people to get together. It’s the show of gathering,” said Agarwal, a University chemical engineering senior.
The legend of the holiday is associated with King Hiranyakashipu, who wanted to be worshiped by Indian people as god. The king decided to severely punish his son, Prahlad, for refusing to obey him. He asked Prahlad’s sister, Holika, who was resistant to fire, to sit in the bonfire with Prahlad so he would be burned by it and she stayed alive.
While sitting in the fire, Prahlad prayed to Lord Vishnu. He was saved for his devotion, but his sister was burned.
In India, the festival is celebrated by setting bonfires in remembrance of the legend and sprinkling colored powder on others to celebrate the coming of spring.
The Indian Student Association has been involved with the Holi celebration for more than two decades. Although the organization’s festival does not feature all the aspects of the traditional celebration, Agarwal said the group is trying to bring a sense of home and community to University students from India.
Sesha Komanduri, president of the Hindu Society of Minnesota, said the event helps unite the Indian community with University students in order to pass the traditions to future generations.
“It’s a time to get together and have fun with everybody: your family, your friends,” said Malini Mehta, one of the dancers and a member of Indian Student Association.
Mehta, an international business freshman, said the show is done in a traditional and modern mix in order for people to see how it was celebrated in the past and how it is different now.
Youth played a major role at Saturday’s event. Performers’ ages ranged from preschool to adult. Dressed in traditional clothes and accessories, performers entertained the audience with dances, songs and a skit. Elaborate hand movements and swinging of hips were part of women’s choreography.
Young girls and women dressed in sarees, traditional Indian clothes. They danced with bangles and other accessories that made a rhythmic sound to the music. Some of the male performers, also dressed in the traditional clothes, used sticks in their performance.
“It’s been a wonderful experience, a lot of colors,” said Christine Mai, a University chemistry junior. “I really like observing their garments and their traditional wear.”
University linguistics senior Amy Roberts has studied ballet in the past, so she said she came to compare the traditional Indian dances with those from her studies.
“I would hope the audience sees that Indians in the United States, especially at the U, are very active and devoted to their culture,” said Sonia Bobra, vice president of the Indian Student Association.
Bobra said the event is an opportunity for the present Indian community at the University to meet with the Indian community that immigrated to the United States several decades ago.
“It’s a way for us Indians to stay together, instead of separating our own ways,” said University junior Reena Patel.
Ada Simanduyeva covers international perspectives and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3223.