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Article updated: 4/6/2013 5:15 PM

Hindu festival brings 'cloud of color' to Naperville

By Marie Wilson

A "cloud of color" descended on downtown Naperville Saturday, bringing bright hues to the suburban landscape as the Simply Vedic Cultural Society hosted its annual celebration of the Hindu festival Holi.

The fifth annual Festival of Colors was expected to draw more than 1,500 people to the Riverwalk Grand Pavilion to welcome spring by getting colorful.

Participants smiled, laughed and even shrieked a little as they tossed handfuls of brightly dyed flour at friends and fellow festival goers, symbolizing a fresh start and relief from former stresses.

"The theme is throw your worries to the wind and just enjoy," said Naveen Sharma, a volunteer with the Simply Vedic Cultural Society who organized the event.

One time each hour of the festival, music played as people formed a circle and simultaneously threw their worries to the wind -- in the form of plumes of colored flour.

Plenty of worries went away with the breeze Saturday as the cultural society sold hundreds of bags of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple flour to anyone wanting to release their past problems and start fresh.

A field near the pavilion soon took on some hue itself as it hosted impromptu color fights and come-from-behind sneak-attacks. Even Naperville resident Bob Baiyor's mini schnauzer Jake got in on the action, sporting a smattering of orange, yellow and blue across his back.

"It's kind of like a cloud of color, and it smells really good," volunteer Christine Guedel of Naperville said as she gazed at the scene while selling sodas to thirsty color-throwers.

The pleasant scent came from herbs volunteers mixed into the color packets along with flour, following a recipe from India, Sharma said. It took four days to prepare enough colors for the expected crowds, as last year's supply sold out in only two hours, he said.

As crowds built, Riverwalk joggers and dog walkers slowed their pace to take in the scene. A few vendors in tents slightly removed from the main coloring field sold traditional Indian clothing and handcrafted jewelry or discussed yoga. And long lines built for vegetarian meals prepared by the cultural society's Veggie Club.

Over meals of chickpeas in tomato curry with rice, fried bread and yogurt with lentil dumplings; or snacks of fried bread filled with Indian cheese, attendees like Sydney Hunt and Luke Kamely reflected on the communal experience of the festival.

"The concept of throwing your worries to the wind and welcoming in a season of love seems really peaceful," said Hunt, a sophomore theology major at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais. "It's really cool to get a taste of the culture."

Kamely, a fellow theology major, said he has taken an interest in Hinduism lately as he strives to learn about how other religious traditions understand God. When he heard about celebrations of Holi, he looked for a local event and found Saturday's Festival of Colors, not far from his hometown of Lockport.

"For me, it was just about throwing the colors. I saw pictures and I was curious," he said.

But participating in the simultaneous color-throwing, even just once, brought more meaning to the ritual.

"It gains significance when there is that much momentum," Kamely said.

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