By Sheila Haya

Clouds of powdered color fill the air, the banging of drums resonating through crowds of people gathering in celebration of the festival of color, otherwise known as Holi or Phagwah.


I participated in the Holi celebration on March 12, 2017, in Richmond Hill, Queens, where there is a large Indian diaspora.

The Hindu holiday, originating in India, starts with a parade featuring floats of people dressed as the Indian deities Radha and Krishna, and winds up at Smokey Oval Park for a colorful finale.


Despite the frost on the grass, it feels like you are transported to India, as crimson blue and red dust shoots through the sky.

People from India, Nepal, Guyana, and Trinidad, are very happy to share their holiday with visitors. Actually, it doesn’t matter your background, religion, or color, the festival is meant to unite people and celebrate good conquering evil.


A highlight of the festival is the mischievous ritual of smearing water and color on one another.

Move swiftly, weaving through the crowd, while participants gently wipe powdered gulal color on your face as an offering to the Gods and to commemorate the love of Radha and Krishna.

Gulal, or synthetic powdered color is used these days. Originally, it was a natural blend of turmeric, sandalwood, and flower extracts.


Bollywood hits as well as classical music blare through speakers accompanied by traditional Indian dress and dances, and hopes of a bountiful harvest.

Holi also signifies spring, a fresh start, a time of togetherness and forgiveness, as well as tolerance and unity. Countless drumming groups organically form and are circled by people celebrating the holiday.


Phagwah has been celebrated in Richmond Hill for 29 years around the start of spring depending on when the full moon falls.

If you plan to go next year, don’t wear your Sunday best. Although most of the color washes out, you will leave the festival doused in bright color from head to toe, with a big smile on your face.