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BY SYDNEY PEREIRA
The East Coast’s largest Holi Hai festival took over Governors Island on May 12. The traditional Hindu festival was a hit for thousands of New Yorkers — and the drizzling rain and chilly temperatures didn’t stop the music, dance and powdered colors for the 9th-annual NYC Holi Hai celebration.
“Even in that weather, it was a fully packed event, which was a surprise,” said Himani Dudeja, who moved from Delhi, India to New York three years ago. This year’s Governors Island Holi Hai festival was the first Holi celebration she celebrated in the U.S. — attending with husband and 2-year-old daughter, Akira.
“She loved playing with the colors,” Dudeja said of her daughter. “She loved throwing colors at me and my husband. She enjoyed it the most out of the three of us.”
Dudeja and her family nearly didn’t go on Saturday morning due to the threat of nasty weather. But when they arrived, they stayed for over five hours, enjoying a spectacle of dance, music, food, and, of course, colors. Their experience was exactly what one of the festival organizers was hoping to share.
“My idea is to bring world dance and music together with colorful festivities of Holi for a unique cultural celebration,” said Megha Kalia, founder and producer of the festival representing NYC Bhangra Dance Company. Indian, African and Latin dance styles took the stage at the festival. Kalia herself led a dance workshop to Punjabi drum beats. Performers also included classical Indian dancers from the Kathak Ensemble and Friends dancing to Indian Raga’s Irish Malhar and an interpretation on Jason Derulo’s song, Swalla.
“I go to the festival every year,” said Vishally Ahmed of Staten Island. “It’s part of tradition — the Hindu tradition — to represent our culture. So we had a lot of fun — enjoyed the food, the fun, the people. I grew up doing that all of my life.”
Ahmed grew up celebrating Holi in Guyana, in South America, and said the festival brings people together for a time of happiness and prosperity. The host of the Governor’s Island Holi festival, Kalia, does a “beautiful job for us,” Ahmed said.
“She did a phenomenal job,” Ahmed said. “We got in there for free. We enjoyed ourselves. It was all about the music, the food, the colors.”
Indian street food, American burgers, tacos, and vegan crepes were among the variety of local food vendors. The Chaat Company and North Indian midtown restaurant Bukhara Grill were also serving food.
As great as the food, the music and the dancing was, the main event was celebrating the arrival of spring by dousing each other with brightly colored powders. Though essentially a Hindi ritual, the “festival of colors” appeals across ethnicities and culture, drawing people of all backgrounds to the Governors Island panoply of pigment for a truly satisfying experience.
Another attendee, Meena Anand, last went to a Holi festival in Ohio back in 2016. And she said that Saturday’s celebration at Governors Island was her first in New York and among the best Holi festivals she’s attended in her life. The Holi festival is incredibly symbolic for Anand, and the celebration of a variety of cultures and ethnicities was a “fantastic experience.”
“It means more to me when I see the whole world celebrating,” she said.