When the Common Ground Multicultural Club joined with Multicultural Student Support and met at the beginning of the year, their goal was to expand the student body’s minds on multiculturalism and diversity.
That’s when Harpreet Kaur, a Keene State College nursing major, suggested they bring the Holi event to KSC.
Holi, otherwise known as the festival of colors, is an ancient Hindu ritual that typically takes place at the beginning of each spring. Kaur described Holi as, “A festival of colors; they [participants] throw powdered color at each other and they celebrate the coming of spring and the harvest. Before Holi, they threw a bonfire just to get together and celebrate the food that they gathered throughout the winter and the food that they will plant during the spring.”
Yadap Rijal, a freshman architecture major, is an experienced player in Holi, as he grew up in India. “I’ve played it before. I was born and raised in Nepal and I played it there every year,” Rijal said.
Rijal continued, “Every year, whenever it happens, you just gather around with your friends and two groups of friends really just go at it tagging each other with colors and the other friend gets mad at you and tags you back with a color.” Rijal explained this would normally occur right outside his house and along the streets.
The members of KSC Multicultural Student Support may not have been able to have a traditional Holi festival along the streets of Keene, but their display was impressive just the same.
On Thursday afternoon they met on the Lloyd P. Young Student Center lawn and kicked off the Holi event.
Traditional Indian music played over the speakers while bags of powdered colors were provided to the students who chose to participate; a number which increased as the event occurred.
Throughout the next hour students joined in at the chance to throw the colors into the air which, according to Kaur, symbolizes letting go and forgetting the past.
The goal is to move on and welcome the thought of a new beginning—all aspects of the festival which were explained by Kaur and Rijal as they MC’d the event.
I even saw students who had not planned to attend the event stop from their daily route past the student center to join in, whether they were properly prepared in their attire or not.
“I didn’t know what was going on. I was walking by, I got clobbered in the face with what tasted like athlete’s foot mixed with flowers and I was like, ‘Alright it looks like this is what my next stop will be for the next forty-five minutes,’” said KSC student Kevin Fry. Fry said he joined the crowd of colors despite his attire of a flannel and khaki pants.
Like Fry and myself, students were drawn in by the array of flying colors dancing through the air and the sheer happiness exuberated from the crowd.
I didn’t see many people who were able to pass by without stopping in awe, quickly capturing pictures with their phones and questioning what was going on.
“We’re having a blast out here. Look around, everyone’s smiling, we got this crazy food we’re eating, we got dancers coming up from Boston. It’s all the right kind of messages that you want from when you go to college,” Fry said, who also said he was impressed with the array of Indian food provided as well as the New England Bhangra dance group.
The New England Bhangra Group travelled in from Boston to entertain the crowd with traditional Indian folk dances.
Fry continued, “You gotta give credit where credit is due to a festival as mindlessly joyful as this one is.”
Kaur found me afterwards extremely pleased with the event, despite a few behind-the-scenes rough patches.
She stated, “I think it was a success. There were a lot of people who participated. The dancers came in late, but everybody still got to experience another culture and that was what we wanted.”
This was true even for those who did not participate.
Multiple students came up to me and other participants asking what was going on and what it meant. This foreign culture was suddenly being spread across campus in a unique and memorable way.
“It was unbelievable. I don’t know how many other campuses in this country do this — literally, I was going from one place to another on campus and you get swept up in this visceral, physical representation of this cultural procreation,” Fry said.
Sandra Garcia, coordinator of Multicultural Student Support at KSC, said that while they try to differentiate the cultures they choose to highlight each year.
“I think this one we would like to do every year. It’s a lot of fun, and I think it brings a different aspect of different cultures,” Garcia said.
Fry agreed and said he hopes Holi returns for many years to come.
Fry said with the access to technology available today, we are able to experience cultures from across the globe right in our own backyard.
I think it’s important to acknowledge the growing diversity that so many people are still unaware of.
Fry said it well —“We do live in a diverse place. A lot of people think of New Hampshire as ‘Oh, kind of a snow town, a lot of white people,’ but it’s getting increasingly diverse. And the more you delve into those cultures and subcultures, as tiny as they may be, the more beautiful we always end up finding out they are.”
Alexa Ondreicka can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org