Arrive at Lafayette’s Holi Festival Saturday wearing white, leave different

Festivalgoers clad in white will gather in Girard Park on Saturday for the Lafayette Holi Festival, a Hindu celebration that brings Indian culture to the heart of Cajun country by marking the arrival of spring with the coloring of people instead of eggs.

Holi, which is observed primarily in India, became a part of Lafayette’s festival scene four years ago and has attracted people of all backgrounds who go to revel in a shower of vibrant powders.

“It takes down barriers,” said Raj Shetye, president of the Acadiana Indian Association and this year’s festival coordinator. “You and I don’t know each other, but we meet up at the festival, and for those 30 seconds, we’re having fun. It’s that shared moment as a community. Everybody gets together, and at the end of the day, you look around and everybody’s colored — head to toe.”

Before the festival became popular with Lafayette natives, Shetye said, Holi was celebrated as a private event in the Girard Park pavilion, exclusive to the Indian community in Acadiana.

Once it moved to a more open area near the baseball mound in 2010, people in the park began to join in the colorful festival.

“That caught our attention,” Shetye said. “One of our missions is to bridge the cultural gap and introduce cultures, so we thought this would be a nice way for us to introduce something that is very unique to India.”

After taking a vote, the Acadiana Indian Association decided to open the festival to anyone who wanted to participate, he said.

The first Lafayette Holi Festival in 2011 attracted about 400 people. By the third festival in 2013, attendance climbed to 2,000.

“What’s interesting is that the Indian community hasn’t grown, but the event has,” Shetye said. “So what’s happening is we are drawing in a lot of Acadiana residents. Word gets out.”

The Holi Festival emphasizes Indian culture in Lafayette by featuring traditional Indian foods and Bollywood music and dance that everyone is encouraged to take part in.

But what draws people in most is the shower of vibrant colors that covers the entire festival in shades of blue, pink, yellow, green and orange.

Packets of colored powder, called Galul, are sold at the festival, and those who want to participate in color play can do so in the “color zone.”

“Leave your inhibitions home,” Shetye advised. “Come in white — it’s more fun. People do get in your space, and they will color you. It’s a great experience.”

Those not wanting to get colored, however, can watch from outside the zone as the ancient Hindu tradition unfolds and color play commences.

“Part of our intent behind this was to introduce music, introduce dance, introduce food,” Shetye said. “Those are things we all share, we like, we enjoy.”

Shetye, who grew up celebrating Holi in India, said members of the Acadiana Indian Association see the festival as a legacy they are leaving behind, especially for their children who grew up in America.

“It’s a good way for us to introduce Holi to them and bridge the gap. And we see that happening,” he said.

Shetye, senior vice president and chief information officer at LHC Group, came to Louisiana in 2010 and joined the Acadiana Indian Association that same year.

The association, which began in 1991, provides a way for Indians in the Acadiana area to get to know each other, socialize and celebrate events from India, Shetye said.

“We’re going to live in Acadiana so we want to be part of the community, and we want the community to embrace us as much as we embrace them,” he said.