The festival Holi, a celebration of fun and forgiveness, was marked at the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Long Island in Selden on Sunday. Newsday's Steve Langford reports. Credit: James Carbone

The top of Sriha Vallapragada’s long, white dress was covered with patches of green and splashes of pink dye and streaks of orange, purple and blue decorated her face and hair.

The 13-year-old was one of the giggling children chasing and throwing brightly colored powder at each other Sunday in the parking lot of the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Long Island in Selden to celebrate Holi, a vibrant Hindu festival marking the arrival of spring.

“I feel free, like I could do whatever,” said Vallapragada of Nesconset, letting out a laugh when a little boy threw a handful of blue dye on her.

The event in Selden, which attracted about 80 people in the early afternoon, was one of several celebrations hosted on Long Island Sunday to mark the annual festival, which fell on Friday this year.

Celebrations typically start with a bonfire on the eve of Holi, though the crowd in Selden lit the bonfire Sunday. During the day, celebrants applied colored powders on each other’s cheeks and foreheads. Children ran around with water guns and directed streams of water at others. There was also food and music.

“The colors really are to brighten your life,” said Lavanya Bhaskar, of Stony Brook, one of the event organizers. “It's also signifying spring. And so you know, once we're drawing out of winter, the whole purpose is to put that color in your life.”

Bhaskar said she and her husband, along with a few other families, founded the temple in 2018 and hosted a small Holi celebration in 2019. The in-person event didn’t return until this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In today's climate, [the festival’s] gotten such a good meaning,” said Shoba Menon, of Rocky Point, the temple’s events chair. “There are so many issues, so many problems that you see in the world. So it's great to just think positive things … and send a positive message.”

Holi is also known to be a day for new beginnings by forgiving and repairing relationships.

“The moral behind this holiday is forgive, forget and embrace your enemies,” said Bina Sabapathy, president of the India Association of Long Island. Her organization held a Holi celebration March 13 in Hicksville.

“When you throw the color, you feel so happy. You feel like you're a new person,” she said. “If there's something in my mind I'm holding, I give up. I say: ‘New year, new time, whatever they did, I forget. I move on.’”

Tamanna Sandhu, 8, said her favorite part of the day was to throw the dye and see the reactions of others as they are drenched in a cloud of colored powder. Just moments prior, she and Arishka Abhilash, 5, of Levittown, smeared dye on each other’s face.

“It’s like spreading joy,” said Sandhu, of Holtsville.

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