One thing’s for sure: When the Shreemaya Krishnadham Temple in Milpitas throws a Holi celebration, they don’t hold back.
They go full-out, leaning into an explosion of color, food, music, and dance.
Known as the “festival of colors”, Holi marks the beginning of Spring. It symbolizes a time of growth, fertility, and rejuvenation; a turning of the tide from dark to light.
At the festival, attendees are encouraged to engage in play, taking bright-colored powder and tossing or smearing it all over one another.
“The smearing of colors on each other signifies love, affection, and friendship for each other,” said Ambrish Damani, who has been doing the marketing for the festival since its inception over a decade ago. He spoke of Lord Krishna and his tan-colored skin. Mythology has it that Krishna’s beloved, Radha, was fair-skinned, and he envied this about her. He complained about this to his mother, and she suggested that he color Radha’s face with any color he so desired. And so the act of coloring one another came to be: truly symbolic of unity, of coming together, of blurring all the lines that might separate and divide us.
Before the celebrations got underway, a group of people gathered under a canopy to play music and sing devotional songs. Soon after that, a DJ started pumping out new songs through speakers. More and more people started to fill up the temple’s parking lot, which had been cleared out to host the festivities.
Powdered colors were available for purchase —2 zip-locked bags for a total of $5.
“And the beauty is we don’t have any entry fees. People are welcome from all walks of life, from all castes and creeds and religions,” said Damani. “It’s just the significance of how you spread your love and affection amongst each other.”
With over a thousand people in attendance, the Holi festival is attended by those not only in the temple community, but others from surrounding areas, including San Jose and San Ramon. And as Damani said, the festival’s attendees aren’t only from the Indian community; people from other cultures had also come out full force to partake.
“What I love is that other communities come,” said Jignesh Shah, who enjoys selling tickets for food and colors to the hordes of people attending the event every year. “It’s not just the communities that belong to this temple. I think maybe we make up 20 percent. We also have white, black, Chinese, Asian…they all just come and the kids play together.”
Lexie De Leon, her husband, and their three children came out from San Francisco to attend Holi in Milpitas. Earlier in the day, they had spent some time in Santa Cruz; on their way back, they decided to stop at the temple to see what Holi was all about.
“We saw online that there was this color stuff happening, so we decided to come,” said De Leon. “It’s so fun. We love it.”
Beforehand, a troop of volunteers from the temple had spent several days preparing food for the event. Their menu included french fries, nachos, and Indian foods like samosas and even Dabeli, a modern kind of veggie burger, complete with bread, baked potato filling, spices, cut-up grapes, crunchy peanuts, pomegranate, sweet chutney, and fried strips of gram flour.
“It’s a modern flavor that younger generations of Indians like,” said Seema Patel, a regular at the temple and also one of the event’s volunteers. “It’s very tasty. Nobody makes it at home because it has so many ingredients.”
The day before, volunteers had also spent 8 hours making 70 gallons of their signature drink from scratch. Known as Thandai, the drink features a combination of milk, spices, and dried fruits, and proved a popular purchase among festival attendees.
Sulochana Kanani has been retired since 2014. But she comes out to the temple for 40 hours a week, volunteering and helping with things in the kitchen, like catering orders. She is happy to lend a hand to Holi each year.
“I enjoy kitchen work. I don’t do much sitting down,” said Kanani. “This gives me peace of mind.”
As the afternoon sun beams down upon the festival goers — illuminating all the pinks, greens, reds, and yellows covering their skin and clothing — the music seems to swell even louder.
In all directions, people of all ages dance, laugh, and eat; some joyfully chase one another, carrying handfuls of powdered colors, ready to hurl them at any moment.
The crowd has really built up now, and the air is swirling with strings of powder.
“This event really just brings the communities together,” said Jignesh Shah, as he stood under a canopy, organizing the bags of colors. “There are no enemies. Even if you’re enemies, you say, ‘Hey, Happy Holi.’ And you color each other and you forget.”
Featured Photo by: Rudy Sabin