Clouds of colorful powder filled the air above the Sun Devil Fitness fields at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus on March 18 as more than 2,500 students gathered to celebrate Holi, a centuries-old Hindu tradition that marks the arrival of spring and celebrates love and friendship.
While the Hindu festival of colors originated in South Asia, it has now spread worldwide, with Holi events taking place globally. Holi celebrations have also been embraced on college campuses, including ASU, where the event was presented by the Indian Students Association.
“We had a record attendance of 2,500-plus students at this year’s event, including students of varied backgrounds, ages and disciplines, as well as staff, faculty, family members and alumni,” said Yashaswini Karanth, association president and a graduate student studying materials science and engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “This number also includes 100 members of Team ISA (made up of the association's board members and dedicated volunteer group),” she added.
People all across the world celebrate Holi by throwing colorful powder into the air and splashing each other with it. There's significance behind every hue. Red is associated with passion and new life, and green represents growth and renewal. People also throw colorful water balloons at one another.
Karanth said Holi has long been one of India’s “fan-favorite” festivals, drawing large crowds each year, especially young people.
Poems as early as the fourth century CE describe Holi festivals in the Indian subcontinent. The celebrations herald the arrival of spring after a harsh winter, representing the eventual victory of virtue over evil. The festival is observed in the month of Phalguna in the Hindu lunar calendar, which corresponds to March. The observance of Holi began on March 8 this year.
“It marks the onset of an entire season of harvest festivals that India celebrates,” Karanth said. “I have always associated Holi with friendship, camaraderie and the innate joy in living as it celebrates these aspects through music, color play, dance, food and more,” she added.
Karanth, who grew up attending local community Holi festivals, said this year’s gathering enabled her and many other students to connect with peers from similar backgrounds while also showcasing their culture to fellow Sun Devils.
“Holi, to me, has always been about celebrating the joy of living life,” Karanth said. “As your white garment gets stained with colors fondly (and oftentimes aggressively) applied by your friends, there is no feeling to conquer the spirit of friendship, camaraderie and joy that fills the air as equally as the vibrant and rich colors of Holi. This is the moment when you can leave your worries behind and start something new," she added.
In recent years, the Holi celebration at ASU was presented on the lawn at the Palo Verde residence hall complex — also known as Palo Verde Beach. Karanth said a highlight of the 2023 event was the transition to a larger venue, which enabled event organizers to double the attendance this year.
“We have been able to bring this cultural extravaganza to 2,500-plus students as compared to 1,200 students at Holi 2022,” Karanth said. “With extensive support provided by Educational Outreach and Student Services and the International Students and Scholars Center at ASU, we hope and aim to increase our reach amongst the ASU community and continue bringing larger-scale events," she said.
Joanne Vogel, vice president of student services, said the event was not only a joyous and festive time for a large gathering of students, “it was also a great and colorful demonstration of culture at ASU.”
“This entirely student-led event provided Sun Devils a chance to learn about this facet of Hindu culture while making new connections with students across the university,” Vogel said.
The Indian Students Association at ASU is a nonprofit organization to promote service and leadership opportunities helping new students with the transition to the United States, including support pertaining to the educational and social issues that they may face during the transition to college life at ASU. Student-student and student-community interactions are also highly encouraged, and the members work to provide their peers a platform to express their creativity, especially in the performing arts.
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