Utah Krishna Temple holds annual Festival of Colors

The Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork

Story, video and photos by ANDREAS RIVERA

When the time came for the flinging of colors and burning of Holika, the temple priest counted down from 20. Hundreds of students waited in anticipation to throw colors at their friends. When the countdown came to one, everybody threw their powder and the temple grounds erupted into a storm of colors. As the dusty air cleared, people were covered in a mixture of pink, purple, yellow, green and other colors. Impatient people had already been dipping into their colors and smearing them on each other, but when the final countdown came, nobody came out from the cloud of colors untouched.

With the end of winter and the dawn of spring comes the Holi Festival, also known as the Festival of Colors. Celebrated all over the world by followers of Hare Krishna, it is one of the largest and best known Hindu holidays.

In Utah, it is celebrated at the Lotus Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork. Many people, who are not even Hindu, come to celebrate the changing of the seasons with traditional Indian festivities. All are invited, especially college students looking for a fun Saturday afternoon.

Caru Das Adikari, the temple priest, said that the festival celebrates diversity.

As the master of ceremonies, he got up on stage and described the origins of the festival. He told the Hindu story of Holika the witch who was immune to fire and would take babies with her into the fire and burn them. One day she took a boy named Prahlad. This boy was a devout follower of Krishna, and prayed every day. So when Holika took Prahlad into the fire, Krishna protected him and it was the witch who burned to death in the fire. Caru said if you put your faith in God, he would always have your back.

Traditionally the festival is celebrated by burning an effigy of Holika. The throwing of colors is the main event of the festival. The colors are a dyed flour, which is imported from India.

This year 20,000 people attended the festival, about double that of last year. Last year’s turnout forced the temple to conduct two separate festivals, one in the morning and another in the afternoon.

Caru said only 500 Indian families live in the Utah Valley, and even fewer who regularly attend the temple.

Caru said students are so attracted to the festival because it enriches and enhances relationships, both “horizontally” and “vertically.”

“Horizontally, meaning the people around you, and vertically, meaning with God,” he said at the festival.

He said it is known as Brigham Young University’s spring break.

“It is so integrated on BYU, that all you need to do is tell one person on campus the date, and within 40 minutes, everybody knows,” he said.

Caru conducted a poll among the attendees, and discovered 35 percent to 40 percent of the attendees were BYU students.

“At first people will feel uncomfortable, but you look around and you see everyone is having a good time and no one is taking themselves seriously,” he said.

After a 20-second countdown, the temple grounds erupted

The festival is said to have been celebrated for 5,000 years in India and was started by Krishna himself, Caru said. The celebration is on a much bigger scale in India and a lot less organized. It is at such a scale that people will be throwing colors in the streets, at friends and strangers alike.

Caru was born Christopher Warden in New Jersey. In 1969 he traveled to Sydney, Australia, where he visited the Krishna Temple regularly and later became a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. He returned to America in 1975 and traveled the country spreading Krishna Consciousness.

According to an essay by BYU student Chad Young, the Utah temple was established by Caru and his wife, Vaibhavi, in 1987. That year, he bought an old AM radio station along with an acre of land in Spanish Fork so that he could conduct a Krishna themed radio station and start a temple. The temple started off in a smaller building, but a newer, more traditional temple was built in 2001 next to the old one. Ever since, they have been maintaining and living on the temple grounds, sharing Krishna culture and traditions such as Holi Festival with Utahns.

“The temple is more of a tourist attraction, we don’t really go around converting one or two people, but we try to spread awareness throughout the area,” Caru said.

On stage, Caru mentioned that the first Holi Festival in Utah 12 years ago only had about a dozen participants throwing colors at one another and chanting together.

Caru said one of his favorite aspects of the festival was the massive chanting of Hare Krishna. “Saying the name of God, effectively gets you closer to God,” he said.

People who go to the festival usually return, Caru said, and each time they do, they gain a greater understanding of what the festival is about.

“If nothing else they take away the Hare Krishna mantra, ringing in their ears for days,” Caru said as he laughed.

The festival featured performers such as the band Mantra Rock and a troupe of traditional Indian dancers, Shatakshi Goyal. Inside the temple, attendees danced and chanted to the rhythmic sounds of India. Participants respected the traditions of the temple and removed their shoes before entering the temple. People who attended the festival were treated to fresh orange juice and could purchase authentic Indian cuisine such as curry with rice.

Brooke Richmond, a sophomore from Utah Valley University, said her roommates dragged her out to the festival. At first she didn’t think it would be fun, but when she got there, she got into the spirit of things.

“I’m definitely going again next year,” Richmond said.

Hilary Dalton, a senior from Hillcrest High School, said it was her second year attending and it gets better every year.

“I love the atmosphere and vibe of the whole gathering,” Dalton said.

Bhutanese celebrate holiday, new life in SLC

Story and photos by MATT BERGSTROM

Thursday, Oct. 9, was an important day for Hindus around the world. It was the celebration of Dashera, the victory of the goddess Durga over the demons who stood in the gods’ way during creation.

For a group of Bhutanese refugees in Salt Lake City, it was also a celebration of a different victory.

Thursday was the first time the small Bhutanese community in Salt Lake City has officially gathered since refugees began arriving in the city in April 2008. The gathering was held at the Taj India restaurant at 4515 S. 900 East.

Bhutanese celebration

Bhutanese celebration

For nearly 20 years, these families had been living in refugee camps in Nepal. Most of that time the Bhutanese coexisted peacefully with their Nepali hosts. For the past few years, tense relations between China and Tibet have driven more refugees into Nepal. This flood of new arrivals pushed the Nepali government to its breaking point, prompting officials to make an appeal to the United Nations for help. The U.N. decided to resettle the Bhutanese who had long been without a home of their own.

Nearly 250 Bhutanese have resettled in Salt Lake since April. Among them are many members of the Dulal family.

Biren Dulal, 26, was only 8 years old when his life was uprooted and he moved with his family from his home in Bhutan to a camp in southeast Nepal. Today he barely remembers why he had to leave his home. He thinks it had something to do with the Buddhist government wanting Hindus to convert in the interest of national identity.

The actual reason seems to still be in dispute. According to the Web site for Human Rights Watch, the exodus was based on ethnic reasons rather than religious ones. The government of Bhutan in the late 1990s was interested in establishing a firmer national identity. The dispute is whether ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan chose to leave or were forced out by the government.

Regardless of the reason for leaving, Biren said life in the camp was difficult, but not unbearable.

Refugees were seldom allowed to leave. They had their own schools and shops and most of their basic needs were met. However, under certain circumstances, refugees could get permission to live outside the camp.

Biren left the camp for the first time at 18 years old to attend Kalimpong College in eastern India. After earning his bachelor’s degree he went to Katmandu to teach middle school science. A short time later he decided to return to the camp where most of his family still lived to continue his teaching there.

Soon after, members of Biren’s family began being resettled in the U.S. He decided it would be best if he joined them.

Biren Dulal arrived in San Diego on June 21, 2008. He had been sent to live with a brother and sister who had already been resettled there. Biren did not care for San Diego, but is too polite to say why.

Biren Dulal at the celebration.

Biren Dulal at the celebration.

He was then allowed to join the rest of his other brothers and sisters in Salt Lake City. The former teacher now divides his time between his job as an interpreter for the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake, the nonprofit group that helped resettle him, and his volunteer work teaching English to other Bhutanese in town.

Ultimately he would like to get back to teaching science.

Travis Zirker, an IRC caseworker for many members of the Dulal family, said getting back to work is a common desire. A few of Biren’s brothers also were teachers in Nepal before coming to America.

One of those brothers is Ghana Dulal, who Zirker said has become a sort of unofficial community leader.

In the small Indian restaurant packed on an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon with almost 200 Bhutanese refugees, guests from various resettlement organizations and members of the press, Ghana Dulal offered a speech of gratitude and, in a small way, victory.

He talked of their hardships while encamped in Nepal and of the warnings they received from friends before leaving. They were told they would not be allowed to be Hindus in America.

In the end, Ghana Dulal summed up what all the Bhutanese were feeling, and what those who have not been there could not understand, when he said, “We are no longer refugees. We are free people.”