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Hindu fest celebrates spring

Sunday, March 31, 2013
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People celebrate Phagwah during a Hindu Holi celebration at Grout Park in Schenectady on Sunday, March 31, 2013.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
People celebrate Phagwah during a Hindu Holi celebration at Grout Park in Schenectady on Sunday, March 31, 2013.

— It was hard to avoid the baby powder.

Great streaks of the dye-laced stuff were caught by the wind over Grout Park on Sunday afternoon to land on the skin and clothes and hair and in the occasional eye of jubilant Hindus.

Sunday was the local celebration of Phagwah, a religious spring festival. Every year around this time, the faithful of four area Hindu temples get together to dance to some traditional music, eat some traditional food and throw handfuls of the traditional colored baby powder on each other.

“The bright colors represent flowers and growth,” said 17-year-old Abashmattie Deodat, wiping patches of pink and orange away from her eyes. “It’s about spring and unity and forgetting all the anger of last year.”

A crowd gathered, dancing around a small stage hung with wind-fluttered pink and yellow streamers. Deodat came with her large Hindu family, mostly energetic guys with palms full of powder and a love of the chance. The slower ones were the worst off. Deodat had shorter legs than her siblings, which meant her dark hair was as white as George Washington’s wig, everything else bright as Kool-Aid.

“Plus it’s just fun,” she said.

Between the wind and the troupe of high school-age dye hooligans patrolling with Johnson and Johnson bottles, few escaped the color onslaught.

Off to the sidelines, Schenectady Hindu Temple’s religious leader Jai N. Misir provided a slightly more in-depth explanation of the festival.

“We believe we were created by god and there is the divine in all of us,” he said, pausing to embrace a woman in a colorful sash. She reached up to powder his already-bright pink shock of hair.

“I’m not just embracing her,” he said. “I’m embracing the god in her.”

He said Phagwah serves as a reminder to Hindus that all things are connected and divine by nature.

This year, it happened to coincide with the Christian Easter holiday. While the religious origins are vastly different and the average Lutheran wouldn’t probably get smacked in the face with bright powder on the special day, the two celebrations shared at least one common theme — food.

Misir’s son, also named Jai, was handed a bowl of rice and curry by a smiling woman he affectionately called Aunty.

“Food is hospitality,” he said. “Go to a Hindu household, they’ll feed you all day long.”

He looked at the fragrant bowl with a mix of longing and dread.

Tables of curry and various other dishes were staffed with smiling women convincing the already full to eat.

“They’ll find you and ask if you’re still hungry,” he said, rubbing a taut stomach. “We all have to be careful.”

But it’s not just decadence, he said. Eating is a necessary part of the religion. He pointed out people in various acts of worship and recognition of divine unity: a young girl dancing on stage, a teen pouring baby powder down a friend’s neck, and finally the woman dishing out curry.

“She’s bowing to the god in me,” he said. “Who am I to say no?”

 
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