Loud music, drumrolls, cheering, energizing dance performances, Indian food, and a plethora of colors greeted anyone stopping by Dag Hammarskjold Park, located just a few blocks from the United Nations on Saturday, May 3rd.
This was a daylong party of colors, bright and vibrant colors. The sounds of the festivities could be heard blocks away, as people from all different backgrounds and ethnicities gathered together to celebrate NYC Bhangra’s 5th annual Holi festival, the Indian festival of colors. There was scarcely a person leaving the area who was not covered in hues of pinks, reds, and greens from head to toe.
Watch this video of the day of the event!
Holi celebrates the coming of spring and originates from ancient myths of the triumph of good over evil. It’s celebrated mostly in India and Nepal, but has begun to spread across parts of Europe and North America, as more people have become aware of the holiday and are attracted to this celebration of spring, love, and happiness.
“I’m getting splashed with colors,” said Elena, a first time participant at this event. “I never expected this.” Fresh faces entering the park would be greeted with cries of “Holi Hai” and sprouts of color. In this mix of music and colors, anyone is fair game.
Several thousands of people attended the festival. Many of the festival-goers were not locals, but had heard of it from family, friends, and Facebook. “We are here today because we were invited to participate in this wonderful thing of color,” said Becky Heisman, from Portland, Oregon. “You meet so many beautiful, colorful people. The food is actually wonderful too.”
Prayatmi Shakya, a student at Baruch College, was informed of the event by her Irish-American friend. She braved the chaos created by a train derailment the previous day and opted to take a cab to reach the site. “Seeing people from different walks of life to celebrate our tradition was one of the most thrilling experiences,” said Shakya. “As I was watching the concert, the host asked if anybody knows how to sing Honey Singh’s song and I raised my hand and said “I can’t sing but I can dance,” so I was called up on the stage with couple of other people and we danced.”
The host, Monty Kataria, entertained the crowd between dance performaces, with explanations of Holi, dance-a-longs, and occasional jokes. The organizer of the event, Megha Kalia, could be heard many times from stage, requesting that everyone respect the park, get off the grass, and volunteer. “If you would like to stay back and help us out to clean, we love you,” said Kalia.
Kalia is a modern dance student at the Martha Graham Dance School and runs her own dance school called NYC Bhangra Dance School and Company in New York City, as well as the Sitarrey Performing Arts Center in Jersey City. NYC Bhangra organizes the Holi Hai festival every year and trains dancers in the art of Bhangra, a Punjabi folk dance that is slowly making its way across the world. The powder-spattered revelers at the Holi festival jumped up and down as Kalia demonstrated the basics of Bhangra.
The preparations for the event start as early as six months in advance, and volunteers play a large part in this. “There are a group of volunteers who work on the website, on setting up the food booths, people who are behind the scenes but are very important,” said Dolly Kamalpreet, a choreographer and performer for NYC Bhangra. “The passion that keeps them going is to be part of something so big.”
NYC embraces diversity, and so does NYC Bhangra. “It’s not just Bhangra dance,” said Kamalpreet. “We have bollywood, salsa, and belly dancing. We invite a lot of different teams to perform with us.”
The NYC Bhangra team is comprised of 10 dancers from different backgrounds. They start rehearsing two months before the show, starting with weekly rehearsals and then meeting bi-weekly as the event gets closer. The team also performs for Vaisakhi at the Indian consulate, Diwali at South Street Seaport, and for the NYC Dance Parade. The team is made of many non-Indians, and some even new to Bhangra.
Fengfeng Ken He has been practicing Bhangra for less than a year. Recently, the dance form went from being an interest to a passion. “Now with NYC Bhangra I’m learning a lot,” said Ken. “I hope for the rest of my life I’ll be doing this thing called Bhangra, because its magic.”
Watch this video to see NYC Bhangra’s rehearsal for Holi Hai!