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Celebrating spring

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Sometimes, you never know what the day will bring, but when James Devine, a senior at Neuqua Valley High School, got up Saturday morning, he knew what was coming.

“My girlfriend and I talked about this last night, and she’s going to smear paint on my face today,” Devine said.

And with that, his girlfriend Kylie Harner, who lives in Naperville, pressed her fingers which were slathered with green, yellow, orange and red paint — a color on each finger — on Devine’s face.

Harner’s act of merriment took place at the Grand Pavilion near Centennial Beach in Naperville as the fifth annual Festival of Colors event was held Saturday, attracting a record crowd.

Naperville resident Naveen Sharma, president of the Simply Vedic organization that sponsors the event, said the festival is a re-enactment of a tradition begun in India centuries ago that has been used to welcome spring and renew relationships.

“This is our way to welcome spring and connect with family and foster friendships,” Sharma said. “People are encouraged to forget their worries and to forgive and forget.”

The “colors” of the festival emerge each year as guests throw bags of non-staining dry colors into the air like dry paint bombs. Color bags were sold for a $2 donation, and Sharma said there were enough prepared for as many as 2,500 people.

Attendance at the event, he said, “has nearly quadrupled every year.”

“When we started this event five years ago, we had 300 people and this year with the weather, we’re expecting 4,000 to 5,000 people,” Sharma said. “We’ve also recruited a tremendous volunteer group of 80 people. This is a small fundraiser for the Simply Vedic group, and we expect to make about $6,000 to $8,000.”

Raj Tank of Warrenville and his wife Kishori were among the volunteers Saturday, and the couple said they have worked the festival every year since its inception.

“I think this has grown as a result of word-of-mouth, because you see the same people back here every year and each time they come, they bring someone else with them,” Tank said. “It’s a very family-oriented, fun event that gives people the opportunity to shake off, what is the phrase, ‘cabin fever,’ and there is just so much energy here.”

Kishori Tank noted that “two-thirds of the people who come here each year aren’t even Indian” and that many are interested in trying out the cuisine from another country.

“I think the ‘pakoras’ are among the most popular,” she said. “They are fried dough stuffed with potatoes and paneer, which is a cheese. Last year, we ran out of them as well as bags of colors.”

The festival, which began at 11 a.m. and lasted until 4 p.m., included both rock and traditional Indian music, food and the opportunity to shop for a variety of service products offered at nine booths from sponsors.

Many who attended Saturday said that their trip to the festival was not their first.

“This is the third year I’ve come,” said Lauren McCarthy of Glendale Heights. “We come back each year because the kids love it, and they like getting dirty and just acting silly. Last year, we made painted T-shirts, and we’ve all wearing new ones today so we can make them again.”

Summer King of Wheaton also said this was her third year at the color festival and that for her and her two children, “music and dancing are their favorites.”

“My son Sebastian is 4 and he’s a big fan of dancing,” King said as music began around 11:45 with the band playing “Smooth” by Santana. “My son loves to just dance around and we’re going to take the same picture we took last year where my husband will put him up on his shoulders.”

Despite the attendance by many non-Indian people, Sharma said the event is significant for those whose roots can be traced back to India.

“This gives people a chance to connect with their origin and relive one of the customs of their country,” he said.

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