Howard County Holi celebration is playground for color

Howard County Times

Blustering winds seemed to contradict the hints of bright spring color spotting the rural West Friendship landscape Sunday morning.

But by noon, the cold weather faded to insignificance as growing numbers of festival-goers arrived to celebrate Howard County's first Holi for All/Festival of Colors at the Howard County Living Farm.

Presented by the Indian Origin Network of Howard County in association with Baltimore Fest and the Hunt Valley Indian Association, the ancient festival once known as "Holika" is celebrated every spring in India; its Hindu origins date back 5,000 years. Other organizations that played a part in the festival include Telugu Association of Maryland with support from the Suri Foundation, Kerala Cultural Society and Prantik.

Paintings in the temples of medieval India and in 16th-century Indian art generally depict Holi as a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. People take great joy in throwing color (in this instance powder imported from India) at each other as a mainstay of the festivities.

The "play with color" frolic celebrated all over the world — which Lord Krishna and Radha are said to have joined in — has come to represent new beginnings and bringing communities together though color and selfless love.

Pravin Ponnuri, of the Indian Origin Network of Howard County, said an estimated 2,000 people attended Sunday's event in spite of the chilly weather.

The decision to mount the festival happened about a month ago because Sanjay Sharma, chairman of the Hunt Valley Indian Association, wanted to provide a Holi celebration for his daughters, Kimaya, 7, and Nishka, 9.

The Sharma family had moved to north Baltimore County in 2013 from Salt Lake City, where upwards of 100,000 people celebrate the color festival at the Krishna temple, and he said his girls asked to "play Holi."

Sharma broached the idea to Neeraj Verma, an anesthesiologist at Sinai Hospital and president of Hare Krishna ISKCON, at the ISKCON of Baltimore temple in Catonsville.

They joined Ponnuri, who is also a Howard County School Board candidate, and Clarksville resident Shalini Sood, of Baltimore Fest, and the group decided to organize a free community event to raise awareness of a new temple slated to open at the Catonsville site in mid-August.

"It was a win-win situation," Sharma said.

"It is great to see multiple voluntary organizations come together to bring the biggest color festival of the area in celebration of Holi, and to unite the community with a fun social and cultural event," Ponnuri said.

Sharma estimates the festival cost several thousand dollars to set up. The money, he said, came mostly from private donations through the sponsoring organizations. A $5 parking fee was intended to recoup some of the cash outlay, while vendor tables and revenue from the sale of bags of color powder and ethnic food raised money for the temple and other organizations.

Just before 10 a.m., a 5k walk/run preceded the first color throw; followed by a yoga demonstration, Bollywood dance and other entertainment on the stage, with performers as young as 4 years old. Both the national anthem and Jana Gana Mana, India's national anthem, were performed.

Ponnuri, who is also a magician, entertained children in the crowd when the wind allowed, and there were color throws throughout the day despite the high winds, as if nature couldn't compete with the local color bursting on the scene.

Ponnuri said all of the organizations involved hope to make the Holi for All/Festival of Color an annual event and to grow it by including others. He estimates there are about 30,000 Indians living in Howard County, who can be brought together socially and professionally.

"Together we can dream big," Ponnuri said. "Alone we may go fast, but together we go far."

By coming together, "goodness will spread everywhere; peace will come; love will come," Verma said.

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