In living color
Indian festival of Holi to be celebrated in Hamilton Park
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Mar 24, 2013 | 3888 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Surati hosted its first Holi in Jersey City in 2008, it was held indoors at a restaurant. Since then, the annual celebration has grown to include hundreds of local celebrants.
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Jersey City will be awash in color next Saturday when hundreds of Jersey City residents and their guests gather in Hamilton Park for the annual festival known as Holi.

Known as the “festival of color,” Holi celebrates the triumph of good over evil in the Hindu faith. Thus, strictly speaking, Holi is a religious holiday. But just like many Jews exchange Christmas gifts, and many Christians know the words to “I Have a Little Dreidle,” Holi isn’t just for Hindus anymore, especially in multi-culti Jersey City.

“We believe in celebrating with the community across ethnicities. This is going to be a very multi-cultural event,” said Rimli Roy, founder and director of Surati, a Jersey City-based arts nonprofit. “We want to share our culture with the rest of the community, as well as having them participate in our culture.”

Roy promises that this year’s Holi celebration in Hamilton Park will be among the biggest in the tri-state area. When Surati hosted its first Holi in Jersey City in 2008, she said it was held indoors at a restaurant. Since then, the annual celebration has grown, even though the festival was not held two years when Surati and Roy were on tour.
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‘We believe in celebrating with the community across ethnicities. This is going to be a very multi-cultural event.’ – Rimli Roy
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“This Holi celebration will have most of the elements for a traditional Holi celebration,” said Roy. “I don’t think any other Holi event here is doing all the elements that we’ve incorporated in our celebration, which includes live performances. We have educational music and dance workshops at the event, which is also traditional.”

The only traditional Holi element that will be missing is a bonfire.

“We tried to get a permit for a bonfire. But when I approached the city, the woman I spoke to told me she had never seen a bonfire in all her life in Jersey City,” Roy recounted, laughing.

Holi will get underway on Saturday, March 30 at noon and will continue until 5 p.m. There is an advance admission fee of $40 for adults. Children 12 and younger will be admitted for free.

Music, dance, food & fun – but no opium

Hudson County’s South Asian community has grown to be quite sizeable over the last 15 years. Several Indian and Hindu celebrations are now held throughout the region, including Holi, Diwali – known as the festival of lights – and the celebration of India’s independence from Great Britain.

Roy said the celebration of these festivals and holidays has become popular because it connects the immigrant community to its roots and allows Indian-born parents to share their heritage and cultural roots with their American-born children.

“We will be telling the story of Holi through dance, drama and music,” said Roy.

Roy and the troupe of professional dancers she works with at Surati will perform Odissi Indian dances – Odissi is a classical Indian dance form – and will lead dance workshops and demonstrations for those who are game.

Plenty of traditional food and thandai – a milk and nut drink – will also be available for celebrants as well.

Of course, no Holi celebration would be complete without the colorful chalk for which the festival is known. Throughout the festival, it is common for celebrants to spread colored chalk on their own faces and the faces of others, including strangers.

A few people have jokingly asked Roy if there will be bhang, an opium-based drink, at the event.

“I said if they can get the permission for it, then we’ll have it. But I’m not going to request permits for that!”

For the uninitiated…

Those who have never attended a Holi celebration should be forewarned: Do not attempt to take a stroll through, or near, Hamilton Park in your Sunday best; it is quite possible that a happy Holi celebrant will drape you – and your clothes – in colored chalk.

The chalk that will be used for the event will be organic and will wash out of clothing, eventually. Still, Roy admits people should come prepared.

“It is traditional for people to wear white for Holi,” said Roy. “But don’t wear your best white clothes. Wear something that’s not so nice.”

There will be a free shuttle service available throughout Holi to Hamilton Park from the Grove Street, Exchange Place, and Newport PATH stations, courtesy of Silverman development.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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