Holi festival brings color, sound to Pleasant Street in Schenectady

Hindu youth embrace cultural heritage
Hindu Temple on Pleasant Street in Schenectady cover each other in colorful powder at the Holi Festival Saturday.
Hindu Temple on Pleasant Street in Schenectady cover each other in colorful powder at the Holi Festival Saturday.

SCHENECTADY – Slate gray sky over Pleasant Street Saturday contrasted sharply with vibrant colors and energetic music of the Holi festival at the Schenectady Hindu Temple.

Amit Jagdeo, a Hindu priest and the president of the Hindu Society of Schenectady, said all of the Hindu temples in Schenectady participate in the annual Hindu celebration of Spring and the New Year. Holi festivals with artists, musicians and dancers performing traditional Indian music was brought from India to Guyana by British indentured servants in the 19th Century.

“Holi is the triumph of good over evil. It’s a time when we celebrate the coming of spring, which are the different colors and hues — the powder everyone covers themselves with — but it’s also a time to celebrate brotherhood and unity. To renew our vows of commitment to life and to service,” Jagdeo said.

The purple, blue, pink and red powders — known as gulal or abeer — are spread by Holi revelers onto each other, and give the event its signature aesthetic vibrance.

Jagdeo said many Holi attendees, himself included, will wear white clothing during the festival, both as a symbol of purity, but also because it best reflects the colors of the gulal powders.

Geeta Phaskanram, who works as a laboratory technician for New York Oncology Hematology in Clifton Park, said the local Holi festival in Schenectady has grown every year since she first moved to the area in 2000 from Guyana. Phaskanram brought her own bag of blue powder to the event, and if she spotted someone not already colored she would quickly change that for them.

“This is something people celebrate to show happiness, joy — everyone becomes one big family. We are celebrating good overcoming evil,” Phaskanram said “In India you throw it up in the air and it spreads over everybody.”

Aaron Ramsaroop, 17, a Schenectady High School junior, was colored in bright purple and pink powder over his white T-shirt and beard. He said he’s been attending Holi festivals in Schenectady his entire life and views it as a chance to experience  tradition with his family and friends, including his friend Chris Singh, 16, a Christian.

“It’s a celebration of colors, a chance to come out and eat some good food, listen to some good music. It’s basically celebrating spring coming,” Ramsaroop said.

Singh, who was colored from head to toe in deep purple, red and blue powders, said his family has two types of Christians in it, the hard core ones who aren’t allowed to come to Holi and the looser ones that are OK with it. He said he likes Holi.

“Everyone just gets together and listens to music and has fun,” Singh said.

Antia Arjoon, 18, a freshman criminal justice major at Sage College, acted as one of the masters of ceremony for the dancing girls at the Holi festival. Arjoon said the young women of the community practice traditional Indian dances for months before performing them wearing traditional garb during the Holi festival.

After one dance, when she didn’t think the applause was strong enough, Arjoon rallied the crowd.

“Come on, we can do better than that! Let’s hear it for these performers,” said Arjoon, and the crowd responded.

Arjoon said she performed the traditional dances herself when she was younger, many of them containing symbolic, emotional meanings, exemplifying grace and dignity She said now that she’s older she enjoys giving back by volunteering for Holi.

“This is my religion, and as a community we come together and a lot of kids, as they grow older they tend to stray away from their religion, but it’s important to keep together as a community and keep it strong and keep it together, because we are the generation that is upcoming, and we have to keep the culture alive,” Arjoon said.

Categories: Life and Arts, News, Schenectady County

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