Puffs of colored powder filled the air at Girard Park on Saturday, celebrating the end of winter and the coming of spring in the annual Lafayette Holi Festival.
Event goers caught in the middle of color fights tossed clouds of dyed corn starch, or gulal, at one another and into the sky while enjoying traditional Indian dishes and Bollywood-inspired performances.
The internationally celebrated Hindu holiday of color has become a local favorite, growing from a few hundred people during its first year in 2011 to an estimated 2,500 people this year.
“Celebrations of all cultures are important,” said Nikky Akkaraju, president of the Acadiana Indian Association. “The Indian community in Lafayette is growing, so celebrating the festival is a way to share our culture with the Acadiana community.”
What began as an intimate fete in Arun and Michelle Lakhotia’s backyard evolved into what can now be observed each year during the last weekend of March.
“Arun opened it up and organized it after we saw how much fun it was,” said Michelle Lakhotia. “I think Cajuns like to party just as much as Indians.”
In India, she said, it’s all but impossible to walk down the street during the time of the Holi festival without getting color on you.
“You cannot step out of your house, even onto the roof. I was on the roof when Holi started one year, and someone threw color from their roof on me. You can’t get away from it there, so they party hard just like the Cajun crowd.”
Lakhotia, a Judice Middle School teacher, brought 30 of her students to volunteer at the festival. Hope Wintersmith and Luisiana Santos, both eighth- graders, designed this year’s shirt, which Santos said was inspired by the festival’s lively crowd.
Lafayette native Amanda Voiles said this year was her first time attending the Holi festival.
“I grew up here my whole life, and I’ve been doing Festival Acadiens and Festival International,” Voiles said. “Events like this are really good for our community because it helps us all come together and accept every person for who they are. Different cultures make Louisiana what it is.”
Participants could purchase three packets of the organic, smooth powder, generally imported from India, for $5. On sale as well were traditional Indian dishes, like chicken biryani, a mixed rice dish; chicken 65, a spicy, deep-fried chicken dish; and samosas, potato-stuffed pastries.
The profit earned at the festival covers the cost of the supplies and any money that’s left over is donated to charity, Akkaraju said .
City-Parish President Joey Durel was among those enjoying the festival, lightheartedly asking the energetic crowd, “Have y’all lost your minds?”
Durel, who hadn’t escaped the bright powder, became an “honorary Indian” last year after making the event an official Lafayette festival.
“It doesn’t matter if you are black or white or Asian,” said one of the festival announcers. “The front of my head is blue, and the back of my head is brown. Today, everybody is colorful.”