After years of celebration, the Holi Festival at the ISKCON temple in Washington D.C. is now so embedded in the local culture that it has become an annual family tradition for many.
This year over 4,000 people attended the event, also dubbed Festival of Colors, on Saturday May 4th. So many turned up, in fact, that offsite parking had to be arranged with buses to shuttle them back and forth.
The crowd was extremely diverse – guests were young, old, black, white, Latino and Indian, college students, and members of the congregation.
“Most of the people who come have either never been to the temple before, or are not so familiar with Krishna but really enjoy our family friendly festivities,” says volunteer coordinator Amy Hollis.
Visitors paid $5 a person to enter, with all food under $5 – a very affordable day out with the family, particularly in the D.C. area.
The temple campus was dotted with colorful tents from Madhuha Dasa’s traveling Festival of India, a stage, and numerous prasadam booths.
Offerings included a mix of Indian and Western cuisine prepared by devotees, including masala dosa, chole bhature, a full thali plate, pizza, French fries, pakoras, noodles, cake, donuts, and fresh juices.
Onstage, Gaura Klein and his group of devotees from Texas performed live kirtan, incorporating traditional instruments like harmonium, kartals and mridanga into a high energy dance music style.
Inspired by their joy and devotion, an ecstatic audience sang along to the Hare Krishna mantra and other Vaishnava chants, throwing powdered colors into the air every hour.
Elsewhere visitors could meet the cows and play holi with them by pressing colored handprints onto them.
At the Ask A Monk tent, a new addition this year, they could ask any question they desired to seasoned bhakti practitioner Adi Purusa Das.
Every half hour, hatha yoga classes were offered outdoors by teachers connected to the temple.
At the Mantra Meditation booth, the aptly-named Maha-Mantra Das had devotee volunteers sit one-on-one or in small groups with guests, teach them the Hare Krishna mantra, give them a set of beads, chant a full round of japa with them, and give them the beads to take home. Over the course of the day, more than 500 people chanted a round of japa.
In the temple room, president Ananda Vrindavana Dasi introduced guests to the Deities, gave a brief explanation of Krishna conscious philosophy, and showed them how to say a prayer at each of the three altars and offer a candle to the Lord.
“The biggest thing that became evident this year was how the festival has become ingrained in people’s family traditions,” says Amy. “In a lot of conversations with guests, they shared how their children have grown up with it, and how they look forward to celebrating it together each year. And that’s really sweet – because for so many who would otherwise not be very familiar with our temple, we’ve become a small part of their life.”
This family tradition spans generations and brings together different faiths. This year Walt Mills, a 64-year-old Presbyterian elder and deacon, attended with his daughter Katie, 37, and granddaughter Reagan. All deeply appreciated the festival.
“It was invigorating to be in a diverse crowd of smiling happy faces,” Katie commented. “Seeing others take joy in chanting together, practicing yoga and praying lit up my soul.”
“I like Holi because I like throwing colors,” added six-year-old Reagan. “The food is delicious. I love the music and the singer’s voice. The rainbow yoga was so fun!”
Grandfather Walt Mills was particularly effusive, finding the commonality across faiths in praising the Lord’s Names.
“Krishna Bhakti is joyously and amazingly celebrated at Potomac amongst all generations, and it especially appeals to the “young eternal soul” within all of us,” he said. “The name of God, Krishna, is lifted up, chanted, sung, yelled, and shared among all attendees, and for many first timers at Holi, the mix of food, fun and Mantra is life changing. I am so appreciative. God’s name is to be adored in all religions, in all cultures, at all times. His Name represents all of His traits, and to call upon Him with such Holi enthusiasm delights Him and delights us. Thank you.”