Asha UIUC hosts annual campus Holi celebration Saturday

Koren Hayes, junior in AHS dumps her bag of color on a friend’s head at Holi on Saturday, April 11.

By Emily Scott

Holi has always been Pratim Patil’s favorite holiday.

He remembers the colorful Indian holiday as a highlight of his childhood.

“Kids might look forward to Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Patil said. “For me that favorite holiday was Holi.”

Patil’s favor for Holi has now transferred to his work as event coordinator for the University’s chapter of Asha, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the education of underprivileged children in India.

Asha held its annual Holi celebration Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. at the Florida and Lincoln Playing Field.

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The event had more than 2,500 attendees and raised more than $16,000 out of the organization’s fundraising goal of $20,000, according to the event’s Facebook page.

Though the largest celebration of Holi takes place in India, the holiday is celebrated around the world in many major cities and college campuses.

The holiday comes from the religious story of Prahlada, who was rescued from a fire by the Hindu god, Vishnu. Also known as the festival of colors, or festival of love, it marks the beginning of spring.

Holi begins with a bonfire the night before, followed by a day full of throwing colors — usually corn starch with color dye — and participants chasing one other with water guns.

Traditionally, Holi is celebrated after the last full moon of Phalguna, the Hindu month during the end of February and beginning of March. However, Pail said Asha UIUC moved its Holi celebration to April due to the colder weather seen in Illinois this year.

“It’s just a fun event that people of any religion or any denomination can attend and have fun at,” Patil said.

The bridging of the social gap that the holiday allows is what makes it important, Patil said. He described it as a great joining force — especially in India. It’s a day when social divisions don’t matter, and everyone gets together to celebrate.

The University’s chapter of Asha, which began in 1999, started hosting its own Holi celebration in 2010. Since then, Patil said the event has grown exponentially in size. He said the first event had around 350 participants, but within 48 hours of launching Asha’s Facebook event page this year, 3,000 people had RSVP’d to the event.

Amandeep Gargi, former president of Asha UIUC and current adviser for the organization, said he made the decision to start Holi during his presidency in 2010 because he felt “a strong need to revive” the organization.

In the beginning, the main challenges were logistics and preparing for large crowds of people in a large enough space, Gargi said.

“We were scared until the day of,” he said of Asha’s first Holi. “In the evening when everything was finished, we figured out, ‘Oh, it wasn’t that bad.’ After that, our model was established.”

With a ticket purchase — $12 for students and $15 for the general public at the gate — participants were able to use as many colors as they wanted. Patil said there were 1,200 pounds of color stored up for the day’s use.

In recent years, Asha UIUC has been able to raise around $30,000 to 40,000 annually from all of its fundraising for the education of underprivileged children in India. Gargi said 100 percent of the funds raised by Asha UIUC reach the educational projects in India.

The dollar to rupee, India’s national currency, exchange rate can make a world of difference, Patil said.

“You spend two dollars on a Coke or a tip, and it’s a month of education in India,” Patil said. “So that’s why we thought, ‘Hey, this will be a good idea.’”

Though Holi is its largest fundraiser, Asha UIUC also raises funds through participating in marathons and running its monthly restaurant, Sambar. Once a month, the organization takes over the Red Herring restaurant in Urbana and cooks Indian food that is either exotic or not usually served in Indian restaurants.

Regarding Asha, Patil said there are two parts of the equation: raising money and figuring out a responsible way to disperse that money to schools in India in a transparent way.

“We have a responsibility to the donors to ensure that the money’s not going into the wrong hands,” he said.

Both Patil and Gargi said they expected this year’s Holi would bring in more people and funds than previous years.

Shraddha Patil, treasurer of Asha UIUC, said Stanford University’s Holi celebration, which was extended to a two-day event due to its popularity, is an inspiration for what they would like their Holi celebration to become.

Nevertheless, she said Asha UIUC’s Holi is attracting a more diverse crowd, including people of the Champaign-Urbana community, professors and even people from out of state.

“It feels great when people travel all the way to come here,” she said.

Gargi said he hopes the organization will continue to raise awareness for both the cause and Indian culture in general.

“There’s a huge population of people of Indian origin here who were brought up in America and haven’t experienced the big Holi,” Patil said. “A lot of people in the past have told us thanks a lot for organizing this; we’ve only seen this in the movies. That’s a great feeling as well, to give them this opportunity to enjoy a slice of India.”

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