By Scott Terwilliger and Gary Ghayrat
Dressed in a harvest-gold, damask-patterned sherwani – a coat-like lengthy garment common in India – the president of India Association of Long Island, Lalit Aery, zipped between tables as he greeted the 300 people dropping in their banquet to celebrate Holi.
“We are doing fantastic, fantastic,” Aery said. “Bringing communities together, bringing families together… that’s the main idea of our program.”
The ancient Hindu festival of colors, which was observed late last week, marked the arrival of spring. The event was an opportunity for some Long Islanders to celebrate their culture and heritage in a large group in Jericho, Nassau County.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever come to a Holi event like this,” Chirag Raparia, a 24-year-old graduate student who lives in Glen Cove, said. “It’s not incredibly hard to find a group like this but it’s a little difficult to find people that are all interested in the same kind of cultural performances, same kind of food and getting together like this.”
Indian classical dances like Bharatanatyam, as well as modern dance moves popular in Indian music videos, were performed. Guests also enjoyed their vegetarian manchurian gravy with jeera pulao and nann, among other options that fit many Hindus’ vegetarian diet.
The most popular part of the holiday celebration, throwing dry color known as gulal at each other, is now a fun play people of all cultural backgrounds enjoy. But the meaning behind it is more than symbolizing the arrival of spring, Hargovind Gupta, secretary of the Indian Association of Long Island, explained.
“It’s supposed to bring unity among people,” Gupta said. “People, rich and poor, and from different walks of life can all mingle… and people are supposed to forget their past grievances, bring peace and happiness and love all around you.”
The Long Island Children’s Museum collaborated with the Srijan Dance Center to also host a Holi event of their own on Sunday with performances of traditional dances and retelling of Indian myths. Maureen Mangan, director of communications and marketing at the Long Island Children’s Museum, said the event was part of their attempt at reflecting the changing community in the region.
“It’s a way for us to introduce the traditions to a lot of families,” Mangan said.
Throughout the event, children were invited to learn more about different Hindu clothing in an exhibit with costumes from various Indian regions. They also created their own masks and bracelets while learning about Hindu heroes.
“I like my kids to be exposed to culture,” Preye Backer of West Hempstead said. “To see how things are different and how things are similar.”
Indian Association of Long Island awarded, Zahid Syed, a community activist and commissioner of the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights, for his community services. At a time when religious minorities are targeted, like the terrorist attack that happened in New Zealand days before the celebration, Syed stressed the importance of humanity and different communities working with each other.
“I have a different religion but, of course, I do celebrate [Holi] with my friends and my family because that’s what humanity is,” Syed said. “If you respect others’ religion, they’ll respect your religion. So, we have to work together and make this world a better place to live.”