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Sewa Atlanta hosts record-breaking Holi celebration: 18,000 gather for colorful festivities

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, March 28, 2024: Squirt. Splash. Smear. Holi Hai! It’s that time of the year when colors spring back into nature and is perfectly acceptable to douse your friends and family in colors as well. Transcending geographical and cultural boundaries, the 17th annual Holi celebrations, hosted by Atlanta chapter of Sewa International, (SI) brought together a crowd of over 18,000 to Cumming Fairgrounds on March 23, 2024. The vibrant & energetic revelry with overwhelming response from diverse communities marked the flagship event as one of the largest Holi celebrations in the United States.

Sewa International is a non-profit organization dedicated to disaster recovery, community and volunteer development.

“We are thrilled to have hosted such a successful and joyous Holi celebration,” Dr. Madhav Durbha, President of SI, Atlanta said. “Holi is a time for spreading happiness and building community spirit, and we are delighted to see so many people come together to celebrate this colorful festival with us.”

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Popularly known as the festival of colors, Holi celebrates the advent of spring with cultural and religious significance. Typically observed in March in India, Nepal, and across the diaspora, it also has a religious purpose, symbolically signified by the legend of Holika. The night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dahan (burning of Holika) which re-enacts the demise of a Hindu demoness, Holika. People gather near fires, sing and dance. The next day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, or Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated. In Northern parts of India, children and youth spray colored powder solutions (gulal) at each other, while adults smear dry colored powder (abir) on each other’s faces. Visitors to homes are first teased with colors, then served with Holi delicacies such as gujia, shakkarpaare, matri, and dahi-bada, desserts and drinks.

SI Atlanta’s Holi celebration featured a variety of cultural performances, including traditional and Bollywood dances and live music. Attendees also enjoyed a wide array of traditional Indian vegetarian street food.

Congressman Dr. Rich McCormick, Consul General of India at Atlanta Hon. Ramesh Babu Lakshmanan, Georgia State Representative Todd Jones, and Forsyth County Commissioner Alfred John graced the occasion with their presence. Sen. Jon Osoff sent specially recorded greetings for the event attendees. Atlanta’s own business leaders Mr. Subhash Patel of Natson Hotels Group and Mr. Samir Bhatia, CEO of Smartcare Urgent Care conveyed their Holi wishes to the community.

The event drew the interest of various corporations with employees of Starbucks serving free coffee to volunteers in the morning and Tesla Motors displaying some cool cars. While some adults chose to test drive, kids mostly chose to spray it with color and etch their names.

“As the Media and Marketing Lead for Sewa International Atlanta I am thrilled to announce that our celebration was a tremendous success, with 18,000 participants joining us for a day filled with joy, color, and community spirit. Through strategic marketing efforts and engaging media coverage, we were able to reach a wide audience and create excitement for the event, resulting in a vibrant and memorable experience for all who attended. Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this event a success, and we look forward to continuing to serve our community through future events and initiatives. Many thanks to all the media partners,” Prakash Srivastava, Media and Marketing Lead, SI Atlanta said.

Atlanta’s changing landscape with a burgeoning diaspora towards north of 400 in the early 2000s opened doors for more of the restaurants and activities related to the diaspora expand to these areas. While there were other Holi celebrations around the city, there were none in the proximity of Alpharetta which was starting to become the nucleus of the community. SI stepped in to host its first Holi in 2006 in Alpharetta’s Wills Park and the rest, as they say, is history.

But today, there are several celebrations in the vicinity. What sets Sewa Holi apart? Several of the volunteers who were part of the 2006 event continue to serve as part of Sewa to this day. Such continuity has helped SI capture a lot of lessons over the years and drive continuous improvement into their organizing efforts. Years of experience were visible in the efficient car park manned by volunteers which proved to be quite seamless, despite the massive attendance. The volunteers’ dedication and commitment towards delivering a superior attendee experience has helped SI scale it over the years to what has now turned into a mega event. Over the years Holi started attracting non-Indians as well turning it into a universal celebration regardless of race, religion, or ethnic backgrounds.

Besides being a fun experience, a key motivation behind the event, organizers said in a press release (PR), was to build awareness of the community impact activities Sewa is undertaking in Atlanta, across USA, and internationally as well. The PR also recognized all its contributors. “A core team of 250 volunteers collaborated tirelessly for nearly three months leading to the event meticulously planning every detail. The success of Sewa International Atlanta’s Holi celebration would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors, volunteers, and attendees. The Cumming Police Department provided security and DJ Shaan rocked the campground with heart pumping music to which the performers and attendees danced while showering each other in colors. The staff of Cumming Fairgrounds ensured smooth execution of the event. Natson Hotels Group and Paramount Software Solutions served as signature sponsors. Sanatan Mandir and Shakti Mandir sponsored the food for thousands of attendees. We had Amruth Ayurveda, AssureGuru, CGIngredients, Cherians, Chugh, E-Ring, Inc., Garuda Vega, Georgia Banking Company, Gupta Real Estate, Indiaco, PNC Bank, Premium Realty Group LLC, Pyramid Consulting, Royal Basmati Rice, Twinkle Pediatrics LLC as our sponsors. 

Sewa adapted several sustainability principles in minimizing waste associated with the event. Greencell Atlanta partnered with Sewa on this front. City of Cumming provided recycling bags and containers. Sewa International Atlanta extends its heartfelt gratitude to everyone who contributed to making this event a memorable and impactful experience.”

Holi symbolizes righteousness, featuring stories of Krishna, Radha, and Lord Shiva, representing unity, fertility rituals, and a triumph of good over evil. One of the legends has it, that Lord Krishna, known for his naughty nature, griped to his mother about his dark skin tone in contrast to Radha’s beautiful complexion. In response, his mother suggested that he color Radha’s face to match his own.

Violet, Indigo, blue.. as the rainbow of colors, ringing of raucous laughter, spontaneous dance moves to upbeat music swirled through the air and I watched my daughter jump for joy as friends and strangers including African Americans, Caucasians joyfully smeared my 10-year-old with colors, my mind raced to the Sanskrit phrase in Hindu scripture – “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” which translates to “The world is one family.” On March 23, at Cumming Fairgrounds it truly felt that way. Aah! What a joyous world that was!

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