Adults and children were covered from head to toe in bright colored powder or ‘gulal,’ which they smeared on one another as part of a Hindu tradition that dates back thousands of years. The festival of Holi derives from multiple religious stories, and officially marks the arrival of spring. It celebrates love, playfulness, joy, and happiness.
The local mayor, Town Council members and even Rep. Steven Rothman (D-Fair Lawn) also took turns having colors applied to their faces and clothing.
Celebrating Indian culture
Over 250 people gathered by Mill Creek Point in Secaucus on March 18 to celebrate Holi, an Indian festival of colors.
“The event went wonderful,” said Rajesh Nagpar, co-founder and president of the Indian Caucus of Secaucus. “It went beautiful. So many people showed up.”
“People love Indian food and love Indian music, the colors, [and] the clothes we wear,” said Kavita Namrata Changlani. She serves as an executive board member and was in charge of the food for the Holi event. “[People] want to be a part of it. They want to be informed. They are into it.”
Among the many religious stories the festival celebrates is the love of goddess Radha for deity Lord Krishna. The festival in Secaucus, which was celebrated over two hours, offered a snapshot of a tradition that can last up to 16 days in some parts of India.
“Even though it is a Hindu festival you see everyone getting involved. People throw color to you on the roads. People play everywhere. Over there anybody will come and splash [gulal] on you,” said Changlani about the celebrations in India. She added that families host gatherings in their homes and drink Thandai, which is made with milk, a lot of cashews, cardamom and black pepper.
“Even people who you don’t know will come forward to smear color on your face to wish you Happy Holi.” – Kavita Namrata Changlani
“Even people who you don’t know will come forward to smear color on your face to wish you Happy Holi,” said Changlani. “We use red, pink, yellow, [and] colors taken from trees [and] the flowers.” She said ‘gulal’ was originally made from dried flowers.
“It is very short and simple here,” she noted. Despite the smaller scale event in Secaucus, it has gained greater recognition in town.
“It has a grown a lot,” said Changlani about Holi. Changlani has lived in Secaucus for 10 years and has two young children. She said the festival is about togetherness. Some people wore white, which is customary so that everyone can see that Holi was celebrated.
The festival also included Indian music, food provided by local restaurant Mausam, and a Thandai.
Nagpar said the activities of the Indian Caucus of Secaucus are primarily cultural with the goal of bringing traditions celebrated in India to Secaucus “so people can see our culture.” He said he hopes that the younger generations will carry on with the traditions such as Holi and Diwali, which is a festival of lights’ often celebrated in the autumn.
Future plans for the Indian Caucus
The Indian Caucus, founded in July 2010, represents a network of 750 Indian families and provides a vehicle to increase cultural understanding through events that feature traditions often celebrated ‘back home’ in India, according to Nagpar.
The burgeoning Indian population is part of a larger Asian community that makes up 20.04 percent of the 16,264 residents in town, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. The Asian population outnumbers the Latino population by almost 300 people. Sixty eight percent of the population is white.
“We have seen a lot of Indian people here because of housing and the schools,” said Changlani.
Nagpar sees potential in the Indian communities voting power and is encouraging members of the Indian caucus to register to vote prior to the local school board election.
“We don’t have any political agenda as such,” said Nagpar. “We want them to register themselves as voters so our community can have a voice.”
He has been encouraging the Indian community to become informed about each of the school board candidates running in the local election in order to make a sound decision to elect candidates that will do right by the school district.
“If you are not voting you are not getting equal opportunity,” said Nagpar.
The caucus is currently in the planning stages for its next big cultural event Diwali. The group is led by five executive board members and has many volunteers.
Adriana Rambay Fernández can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.