For hours, puffs of blue, green, red and every other imaginable color filled the air over the Atlanta Cricket Fields in north Forsyth, covering crowds of dancing people as they celebrated the blossoming of spring and the Hindu celebration, Holi.
On Saturday, Holi, the ancient Hindu festival of colors celebrated all over the world, was brought to Forsyth County by Atlanta area service non-profit, Sewa International USA, drawing thousands of people from all over Georgia.
Throughout the afternoon, musicians from School of Rock in Buford and Blue Spirit Wheel of Atlanta played to the crowds, while people of all ages showered each other in brightly-colored powders, as has been tradition for centuries.
According to Swadesh Katoch, event organizer and a Sewa volunteer, this is the 14th year that their organization has held the event in the Atlanta area, and more and more people participate every year.
“It’s playing, dancing and spring … it’s a day for change,” Katoch said. “This is a very good presenting of our culture to the local community and making it a big cultural event, the way we are participating in Thanksgiving and other things.”
He said that for him and many people in Forsyth County’s growing Indian community, festivals like this are a way for them to connect back with their home and culture from the other side of the world.
"When you have these cultural festivals, entire Indian communities coming together, you feel connected back to home; you are not missing those things," he said.
One Forsyth County resident, Nidhi Kharbanda, who spent several hours at the cricket fields with her extended family on Saturday, echoed Katoch’s thoughts, stating that over the last two decades of living in the United States, the chances she has had to really celebrate Holi as it was meant to be celebrated have been few and far between.
"It just feels great, it feels so nice to be able do something like this in the United States," Kharbanda. "I have been in the U.S. for the last 20 years, and I have never actually been able to attend something like this that is so close to our culture in any other states."
Kharbanda found Sewa’s Holi event after she moved to Georgia from New Jersey. Her family has continued to attend because its growing popularity and because they believe in the work the organization does.
"As you know the weather [New Jersey] is absolutely different than the way it is here, so we did not actually ever experience these kinds of events, especially for Holi over there," she said. “And it feels good to celebrate it with the broader community, not just Indians."
From what volunteers reported on Saturday, the Holi celebration regularly draws crowds of between 3,000 to 6,000, many of those being from the state’s emerging Indian community. But others reportedly come from the local community at large, drawn to the event by its wholesome and joyous message.
“We love that. We want people to come out and we love having them here," said Madhavi Gunasekaran, who oversaw the Sewa volunteers that served hot plates of delicious Indian food to hordes of participants during the event.
Gunasekaran said that over the last five years she has volunteered at the event, she has seen people of all nationalities and faiths connect with the message, enjoy the food and have a good time.
"People are all enjoying the food, celebrating Holi and it's wonderful," she said. "I think Holi brings the people together and not only just in celebration, but also volunteering. This has made new friends for a lot of people.”
Another participant at Saturday’s event, Brandy Stanfield-Nagel of Roswell, said that she had never participated in a Holi event before, but was blown away by the cultural display.
Stanfield-Nagel said that the event had been on her bucket list, and after hearing about the Forsyth County event from a friend, she was exited to find out more and check it out.
"I thought it was beautiful; it was really beautiful," she said. "It was a wonderful sense of community and friendship. I loved watching the little kids getting excited about the color."
What touched her most, she said, was how strangers her own age approached her throughout the event, kindly and gently dabbing the colored powders on her cheeks.
"I've already marked my calendar for next year's festival and emailed a couple of friends who have the kind of spirit that would enjoy the sweetness and the kindness of the day," she said.
According to Sewa, with the success of this year’s event, they are already planning to hold next year’s event at the Atlanta Cricket Fields once again on March 14, 2020.
For more info visit them online at sewausa.org/events.