Indian festival to offer colorful start to spring

If you're looking for a vivid start to spring (and don't mind getting a little messy), then celebrate the long-awaited season at Holi - The Festival of Colors, which takes place from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday at the Riverwalk's Grand Pavilion in downtown Naperville.

"It's a welcoming of the new season of spring, that new energy, with family and friends and the community," said festival organizer Sarita Sharma. "It's something everyone can enjoy. Everyone understands the long winter weather and wants to celebrate spring."

It's also probably the most colorful festival you will ever attend. Participants actually toss handfuls of colored powder on each other.

"It's a very ancient tradition in India," Sharma said. "You forget what state of mind you're in for that day and just play with the color. Embrace the warm nature of this festival."

Holi, which means festival of colors in Hindi, made its public debut in Naperville in 2010.

"I knew if we brought the festival out everyone would love it," Sharma said. "There's no admission (fee)—that was the purpose."

Holi is hosted by Simply Vedic, a nonprofit service organization dedicated to serving the youth and seniors of Naperville. Using ancient Vedic principles such as compassion, generosity and oneness with nature as its guide, the nondenominational organization subscribes to "simple living and high thinking." Simply Vedic runs several human and cultural service programs in the area with the help of more than 50 volunteers.

"The Festival of Colors is our main event to raise funds to support all those activities," said Sharma, a founding board member. "We can't imagine doing this without our volunteers. They come from all different backgrounds, and that's our purpose. We want to bring everyone together."

As for the funky festival colors themselves, participants can buy bags of the safe, organic, dry colors for a $2 donation. For safety reasons, no outside colors are permitted.

While playing with the colors is mainly a free-for-all, there will be four times for group color-throwing: noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Festival-goers are going to get rainbow-covered in colors, so be sure to wear old clothing and to leave any valuable accessories at home (watches, sunglasses, jewelry). A sealable plastic bag is a smart place to stash your phone, camera and money.

Another tip from those in the know: In order to get colors off more easily after the festival, organizers suggest applying sunscreen and hair oil before the event to serve as a separation barrier between the colors and your skin and hair.

The Festival of Colors also will feature entertainment including the band Visions of Santana as well as traditional music, drums, songs and folk dances. Shoppers can browse the booths of clothing, jewelry, arts, paintings and crafts.

Holi is a non-alcohol event, and no outside food or beverages are allowed. Simply Vedic will offer a vegetarian lunch platter for purchase. Festival-goers also can order a chilled thandai (meaning "cooling down"), which is a traditional drink of Holi, Sharma said.

"It's our favorite festival. We just enjoy it so much," she said. "It's a unique way to welcome the new spring season for Naperville and the community."

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