The Indian Association of Phoenix hosted their annual Holi or “Festival of Colors” at the beautiful South Mountain hiking grounds. You literally have to pass the toll booth to go there! Fortunately, there is no charge for the toll booth.
For those that don’t know, here is a little preview of Holi from our favorite site, wikipedia:
Holi is a spring festival, also known as the festival of colours or the festival of sharing love. It is an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other communities outside Asia.
It is primarily observed in India, Nepal, and other regions of the world with significant populations of Hindus or people of Indian origin. In recent years the festival has spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colours.
Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika bonfire where people gather, sing, dance and party. The next morning is a free-for-all carnival of colours, where participants play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. The frolic and fight with colours occurs in the open streets, open parks, outside temples and buildings. Groups carry drums and other musical instruments, go from place to place, sing and dance. People visit family, friends and foes to throw colour powders on each other, laugh and gossip, then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks.
This festival was quite different than others I’ve been to but it was a blast! There was so much energy and friendliness going around it felt like a mud show at a Texas rodeo.
Be sure to bring clothes you don’t care for! In fact, I found the best thing to do was to go to Walmart and buy a plain white t-shirt. Even after I washed it, there ended up being a super cool pattern on it. I think I’ll keep it as a gym shirt.
Because I had to organize the event, I had to go at 11am when they were first setting up. It was pretty dead but around 12pm, things got going. Not much to say here, there was no merchandise booth and they really are genuine about not making a profit at this event which I respect.
The event costs $10.00 and I think they raise the price to $15.00 if you come late. This includes food at the three locations and two small packets of color. You can buy more packets of color or food at the front of the place but sometimes you don’t need it.
I was lucky to have a couple of people in the Indian Association and apparently if you have a membership there, you get 4 meal tickets.
A proper Holi festival involves the first splash to be a dot on your head. Take the dust and put a dot on someone’s head. This actually represents the ashes of an evil aunt, who was burned at the stake when she was trying to trick the King’s benevolent son to sit with her on a bonfire. The plan backfired and she was burned instead. After the ash is applied on your forehead, you then proceed to throw a bunch of powder at your friends and neighbors. When people physically touch you with the powder, they will say “Happy Holi” and then you will do the same.
Chaos erupts for the next hour where little kids and big kids will spray a mess of colors, water, colored water at your body. You will be covered in bright dust from head to toe. It’s truly an enlightening experience.
When everyone is covered in powder, people just don’t go home, they dance. Our Indian friends taught us some Bollywood moves and we danced for about 2 hours. I definitely want to go here every year.
There are some performances on stage but it soon devolves into dancing all around.
There are three food stations set up. My friend recognized one of them so they had to be good. What’s nice about these three stations is that they all serve very different things. Overall, the food quality is not the greatest and the main reason for this is that the catering has an extreme lack of resources. I would say the food is definenetly legitimate but I can’t judge it super fairly.
Here are a few things we’ve tried:
Note: unfortunately, I don’t remember any Indian dish names except for a couple. Please forgive me for my ignorance of Indian cuisine.
Chickpea Masala with fried Roti – The chickpeas were simmered in a spiced tomato sauce and were decently filling. They give you two loves of this puffed and quickly fried flatbread that is a mixture of naan and roti. I found the portion very filling and I would argue that this was the best deal in the festival.
Indian Fried rice (Chitranna) with some type of dressing – My friend got this, it is a yellow, turmeric covered rice with crispy bits and vegetables in it. It reminds me a lot of Chinese fried rice. The rice was decently bland. The dressing, which deceptively looks like ranch dressing was pretty refreshing and
Masala Dosa with soup and coconut chutney – Dosa is an awesome savory crepe apparently made of lentils and rice. They then add water and pour it on a grilled where you do actually get crepes. These Dousa are fresly made in the plaza on a stand-up griddle by a bald guy in a mustache. The crepe part of the dosa was crispy and crunchy with a hint of give when you bite into it. I did not like the yellow potato masala that was in it. I found it too watery.
The soup they serve is pretty darn spicy and reminds me of a spicy tomato soup. The coconut chutney they served was sweet, but the texture threw me off as it was too grainy. I think you were supposed to mix the chutney and dosa but I didn’t like the flavor.
Samosa – Deep fried pyramid shaped Indian food filled with peas, potatoes and spices. I found them a bit dry. Good with the chutneys they provide. The spicy mint chutneys and the sweet red chutney.
So the food wasn’t the greatest I’ve ever tried but the main focus of the event was not the food,
What is really touching about this festival is that no matter who you are or where you come from, you feel like you’ve bonded with the community and that is something that is hard to capture in Phoenix. We danced with strangers, played with kids and shook hands with veterans and it all just felt like we were in this colorful experience together.