SPANISH FORK, Utah - Tens of thousands of people gathered Saturday at a Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork for the start of an annual two-day festival of colours.
Revelers danced to music, practiced yoga and threw colored corn starch in the air once every hour during the all-day Holi Festival of Colors.
The large majority of participants are not Hindus, but Mormons, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1inARs3 ). Thousands of students from nearby Brigham Young University take part in the festival, which is expected to draw 70,000 people.
The event stems from a Hindu tradition celebrating the end of winter and the triumph of good over evil.
"It's an opportunity for young LDS (Mormon) kids to come and celebrate their spirituality without alcohol or drugs," said Caru Das, the temple's priest.
Das said the event feels more like a rock concert than a religious ceremony, particularly with live music. He appeared frequently on stage, exhorting crowd members to give hugs to strangers and not to think of themselves as ordinary.
"Each and every one of you is lovely and brilliant. No exceptions," he said. "This festival is to remind you who you are."
The festival gives participants a chance to gain exposure to Hindu chants and beliefs while plastering others with dust of many vibrant colours that costs $3 per bag or $12 for five bags. The hourly throwing of rainbow-hued corn starch leaves participants drenched in colour.
"It's a place for your inner child to come out," Robynn Kirkham, a Pleasant Grove accountant who runs a construction company, told The Tribune.
Ranjan Khurana and his wife, Anu, came from Boise, Idaho, because friends in the Spanish Fork Hindu congregation raved about how electrifying the event has become.
"It's vibrant and everybody is just so cheerful," Anu Khurana said. "It's a blessing that so many people are here celebrating the colours."
Haylee Buchanan, a BYU student, said she has attended the event with friends and likened it to a big party.
"I wish that I could have read information on why and what they are celebrating," she said, "because it was fascinating."
Buchanan said it was enjoyable to immerse herself in a cultural event very different from her own Mormon faith.
Indra Neelameggham, a Hindu who worships at Sri Ganesha Temple in South Jordan, said she doesn't mind if young Mormons partake in the festival.
"This festival has no religious significance. There are no prayers or no special services connected with it," she said. "It has evolved in India — particularly in the south — over the years and now is mostly about tourism and marketing — like Christmas or Halloween."
Das said the event is spiritual and many attendees feel moved, but the heavy presence of young Mormons doesn't dampen the event. The festival unites strangers in a common experience, he said.
Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com