Dozens of people throw colors in the air and at each other during a Holi festival gathering Monday night outside Spice Juneau Indian Cuisine. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Dozens of people throw colors in the air and at each other during a Holi festival gathering Monday night outside Spice Juneau Indian Cuisine. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Holi festival in Juneau revives colorful childhood memories for some, creates them for others

Dozens toss caution and colored cornstarch to the wind in traditional Hindu celebration of spring

Philip Davies was celebrating the traditional Hindu festival of Holi for the first time, but it turns out he has something of a cultural connection due to a very recent family history of throwing colors at each other and knowing the ideal clothes to wear while doing so.

Davies was wearing a simple white t-shirt and white cotton pants — splattered with a rainbow of colors, along with his skin and hair — after several minutes of joining dozens of others throwing cups of colored cornstarch in the air and at other revelers during a third annual Holi celebration Monday night in downtown Juneau. He said he was reasonably confident he could get the clothes white again, having done so a week ago after a gathering during a vacation with his wife’s family.

Dara Lohnes-Davies and Philip Davies take a selfie following the throwing of colors at the Holi festival in downtown Juneau on Monday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Dara Lohnes-Davies and Philip Davies take a selfie following the throwing of colors at the Holi festival in downtown Juneau on Monday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

“It was this eco-friendly thing for a holiday Christmas card,” said his wife, Dara Lohnes-Davies, who was similarly attired. She said it was her mother’s idea since “she comes up with these wacky ideas every other year or so.”

The couple was among dozens tossing hundreds of cups of multicolor powder outside Spice Juneau Indian Cuisine just after 9 p.m., culminating an evening that included music, food, games and a “Bollywood dance flash mob” of more than 30 people that gathered in the street an hour before the catapulting of colors.

Holi — also known as the Festival of Colors, Love, and Spring — is traditionally celebrated for a night and day on the last full moon day of the Hindu luni-solar calendar month, and commemorates the victory of the supreme being Vishnu over the evil king Hiranyakashipu. It often features some additional activities such as a bonfire the first night, while omitting the flash mob added to the Juneau event to give it a bit of extra local color, so to speak.

Nimmy Philips (center), owner of Spice Juneau Indian Cuisine, leads a “Bollywood dance flash mob” during a Holi celebration Monday night in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Nimmy Philips (center), owner of Spice Juneau Indian Cuisine, leads a “Bollywood dance flash mob” during a Holi celebration Monday night in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Nimmy Philips, the restaurant’s owner, said hosting the festival locally offered both a chance to share her family’s culture and an event to lure people downtown during a typically slow time of year. This year’s event was an expansion from the previous two celebrations as it was co-hosted by the Downtown Business Association and Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, with several surrounding businesses offering art displays, drinks and other activities.

While the local festival was simplified from its origins, it revived long-ago memories for Aparna Dileep-Nageswaran Palmer, who became the chancellor at the University of Alaska Southeast last July.

“The last time I celebrated Holi I was a child in India,” she said. Her family moved to the United States when she was eight years old and “we were so busy with our lives we only celebrated one or two holidays a year.”

The air becomes hazy at the height of the tossing of colors during the Holi festival Monday night in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

The air becomes hazy at the height of the tossing of colors during the Holi festival Monday night in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

And while she went back to her home country several times, “it was never during Holi,” she said. During her 25-year career in higher education she has lived in some large metropolitan areas with celebrations she didn’t get a chance to participate in, so discovering the small remote community of Juneau hosts a celebration was a remarkable and welcome surprise.

Palmer said her memories of Holi from back home included spending the entire day dancing, eating and drinking, and of course smearing and drenching each other with colors. So by the end of the gathering the outcome is largely the same as what happened in Juneau

“By the end of the night you’re just covered in colors,” she said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

Members of a “Bollywood dance flash mob” greet a Capital City Transit bus that becomes an unexpected part of their performance Monday night in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Members of a “Bollywood dance flash mob” greet a Capital City Transit bus that becomes an unexpected part of their performance Monday night in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ruth Fisher, an employee at Spice Juneau Indian Cuisine, fills cups with colored cornstarch shortly before the throwing of colors outside as part of a Holi festival Monday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ruth Fisher, an employee at Spice Juneau Indian Cuisine, fills cups with colored cornstarch shortly before the throwing of colors outside as part of a Holi festival Monday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Participants in a Holi festival pick up cups of colored cornstarch just before tossing them Monday night in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Participants in a Holi festival pick up cups of colored cornstarch just before tossing them Monday night in downtown Juneau. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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