UC Santa Barbara Indus hosted its annual Holi event on April 14 in Little Acorn Park. Around 300 attendees danced and threw colored powder at one another for the traditional Hindu spring festival.

Holi participants pour colored powder on one another, throw water balloons and spray each other with “pichkaris,” Hindi for water guns. Michael Zhang / Daily Nexus

Holi originates from Indian mythology and broadly represents an ushering in of spring, good and love, while casting off winter, evil and past conflicts. Although it began as a Hindu celebration of the spring harvest in ancient India, Holi has since become a more widely practiced celebration, often referred to as the “festival of colors.” 

All Holi participants were encouraged to wear white and “play Holi” by pouring packets of colored powder on one another, throwing water balloons and spraying each other with “pichkaris,” Hindi for water guns.

Indus, a South Asian cultural organization, gave attendees bottled water and a selection of 1,500 powders. Attendees danced to the mixture of Bollywood and pop music provided by music producer Rahul Bahl, known as DJ Tribahl, and sledded on a Slip ‘N Slide. 

Co-president of Indus and third-year environmental studies major Siaa Singh grew up in India celebrating Holi. She aimed to tie the Indus event back to its Indian roots.

“My parents gave a lot of importance to Holi because I think it’s a fun festival for a child to learn more about their culture,” Singh said. “I tried to mimic as closely I could the Holi experience that someone would feel in India, so what we had was a lot of packets of color we were giving out to people, completely free.”

UCSB Community Affairs Board and Student Engagement & Leadership (S.E.A.L.) helped fund and provide equipment for the event. Indus and the Isla Vista Recreation & Park District settled on the Little Acorn Park space for the event, as it had electricity for speakers and water access for the Slip ‘N Slide.

Third-year economics and statistics and data science double major Akshara Kollu, co-vice president of Indus, emphasized that events like Holi help share South Asian practices with people of varying ethnicities and religions.

“One of Indus’ biggest goals is bringing South Asian culture to Santa Barbara, and it really worked out well that so many different people came to Holi because it’s really spreading our goal,” Kollu said. “Our goal isn’t necessarily to be a club just for South Asians — it’s to teach Santa Barbara and the county more about our traditions.”

Many attendees were first-timers with Holi, while others were coming back to a childhood tradition. Fourth-year biopsychology major Suraj Shukla-Parekh appreciated how local and accessible the Indus event was to the UCSB community.

“When I was younger, I used to play [Holi] with my friends and family, and then once I got to middle school, people kind of got really busy,” Shukla-Parekh said. “It’s nice to have it at college, where it’s nearby and you can just have fun.”

Although Holi is widely celebrated, some of South Asian descent do not grow up practicing it, such as visiting UC Riverside student Nanda Agastyaraju.

“I didn’t start doing Holi until last year, because my parents are from South India and South India doesn’t do Holi as much,” Agastyaraju said. “I never grew up around it, but it’s really fun.”

Fourth-year economics major Yash Sharma reminisced positively on the event as a return to the tradition of Holi. 

“I grew up as a kid going to a temple with my family, but I’ve been kind of out of touch with it for a while, so it’s nice to come back to my roots,” he said. “It was really well put together — it couldn’t have gone better.” 

Despite some weather concerns and running out of color packets partway through the event due to high participation, second-year computer engineering major and Indus intern chair Rushil Gupta found the event successful for Indus.

“Holi helped bring outreach and exposure with the larger community outside of the South Asian community, because it’s in I.V. and we’re very visible to people around us, both of South Asian descent and not,” Gupta said. “It’s a strong start to the spring quarter.” 

A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the April 18, 2024, print edition of the Daily Nexus.