15,000 Crazy Masala Fans Experience Holi Madness!

HOUSTON: Looking at the joyful, color-streaked faces of nearly 15,000, it was clear that Good had triumphed over Evil, the essence of HOLI.  Masala Radio 98.7 FM organized Houston HOLI Festival of Colors in under 6 weeks.  A monumental challenge after COVID, with labor and supply shortages like never seen.  Indeed, it was apparent on SAT MAR 26th that the long winter of the pandemic had ended.  People of all ages, religions, and ethnicities shook off their fears and danced with colors in a celebration of Spring, a celebration of being ALIVE.  As guests entered – glimpsing at the colorfully draped columns with carved Hindu Gods & Apsaras under the opulent domes of the VPSS Haveli Temple serving as a gorgeous background for a  non-Indian DJ playing Bollywood Music – they knew this was no ordinary event, Holi or otherwise.  Open fields inducing HOLI color-and-flee rushes, free flowing water pichkaris, non-stop Bollywood music and dancing, comedy relief, mouth-watering street foods, and endless giveaways from tshirts to Indian snacks and sweets encapsulated the 13th Annual Houston Holi on MAR 26, 2022, a tradition in Houston for thousands since 2008.

Bhavisha Thakkar said, “My son Ayaan is 4.  For the last 2 years – most of his conscious life – he’s been stuck indoors – so he raced through the fields with color and water gun as if escaping from a cage.  He rode every ride multiple times – embraced the bounce house as his new second home – and it was difficult to take him home from Holi.”

Returning to Holi after 5 years, Jay Sean emitted even more energy and connection with the audience.  Everyone from Gen X to Gen Z were in rhythm crooning to his hits like Down, Ride It, Do You Remember.  The packed audience screamed when he sang the Hindi version of “Wanna Dance With You” and went buck wild when he sang “Down”.  It was incredible that Jay Sean chose to perform in Houston on his actual birthday, and the Masala Crew surprised him with a 30-person sparkler parade and cake on stage, as he humbly accepted thousands of people singing Happy Birthday.  The Jay Sean Concert was presented by MIG – Meghani Insurance Group and in fact Houston Holi 2022 was insured by MIG.

The event opened with a holy prayer by Thara Narsimhan, president of HGH to invoke the blessings of Lord Krishna.  Local Indo American leaders Vijay Pallod, Kalpesh Rana, Swapan Dhairyawan, Ajit Patel, and Nisha Mirani were present on stage during the prayer along with elected officials including Sugar Land City Council Member Naushad Kermally and Fort Bend County Treasurer Bill Rickert.  Fort Bend County Sheriff Eric Fagan said “Its great to see people of all backgrounds coming together as one.  This is what America stands for.”  FB Precinct 3 Constable Nabil Shike and his team flawlessly helped with all traffic management.  “I love the spirit of Holi.  You color each other as a symbol of love, peace & forgiveness. I want to promote this in my community.”  Fort Bend County Judge KP George played with color with the revelers and said on stage “In color we are all ONE.”

Well before the Jay Sean Concert Finale, leading local dance schools presented colorful Bollywood dances, in order of appearance:  Ek Do Teen Dance, Katy Bollywood Beats Dance, Swati & Group, Aditi Bollywood Dance Sensation, Bollywood Dancing Stars, Any1CanDance, Ethnique Performing Arts, and Infused Performing Arts.   Infused presented a riveting theatrical performance of PUSHPA with Malayalee film actor Kiron Kumar in the lead role.   Masala Radio Jockey Bijal Mehta choreographed a heart-racing Dholida from Gangubai Kathiawadi with dancers Rishita and Saloni. Local South Asian Rappers Bali and Omer-ican Dream had the audience in a trance with their original music with desi and hip hop beats.

What was in no shortage was the generous sponsor support and giveaways.  Harsh of Zee5 said “This truly the biggest Holi celebrations in the country, and I have been to many but nothing like Houston one of the most vibrant and united South Asian Communities in the USA.” Zee5, the World’s largest South Asian streaming platform, gave away free 1 month subscriptions and delicious Alpha kulfis.  Ramji Law Group gave away free Helicopter rides.  Arshad Ramji said” No.. Not toy helicopters…we will bring the REAL DEAL.”  Groups of four guests would go up every 15 minutes from behind the stage for a pradakshina of the Holi festival.   Pablo from Club Pablo decided to play Holi with $1000 in dollar bills from stage, creating a frenzy in the audience.  Nitya Capital sponsored free Rikshaw and Sholay Scooter rides, which was one of the hits of the festival.  Malik Jamal of Discount Power single handedly gave away thousands of water bottles right near the stage to keep all the dance crowd hydrated.  When he came on stage, he said “Lets keep dancing !”  Upon hearing this, the audience threw water in air and danced in frenzy.  Bob’s Lounge and Mai USA water gave away over 20,000 bottles of water at the entrance for people to drink, splash and use in their water guns.  Colors and water are essential to Holi.  Sherwin Williams gave away 5,000 white Tshirts and by 2pm all the guests looked like Sherwin Williams Minions!   Umang Mehta & Deep Foods gave away 15,000 packets of Cookies and Snacks.  Quick Tea handed out 5,000 milk shakes that retail for $2.99 each!   Umang Mehta said. “I had my doubts how many would turn up at the gate because we just came out of Covid.  But right behind my tent was the shuttle drop off and I saw packed buses constantly being dropped off until 4PM to catch the Holi fun.  Then I knew this years Holi event was a roaring success.”  Amir Dodhiya played cricket on stage and tossed balls in the air to a packed crowd in front of the stage. Everyone that caught the balls won cricket bats.  Sam & Jimmy from Neptune Imports gave away sunscreens and moisturizers at their tent.  Mani Pallani from Texans Minerals gave away 5,000 of the worlds best sanitzers.  Real Estate Rock stars Pinky & Imran of the B&P team ran fun raffle contests at their tent.  Showfest conducted an impromptu Arijit Singh singing contest and gave away free Gold Seats.  Keemat Grocers sponsored the Carnival rides to make them free – something unheard of at festivals.  Kinjal Chheda of World Food came with his family to play Holi and said “Even people in India don’t play Holi like this.  Here it seemed like the entire community came together like one family, forgiving each other and being one in color. I have not seen such a large crowd in my life.”   Jawahar Malhotra of Indo American News said “With such a vibrant event,  we are so proud to be chosen as the exclusive South Asian newspaper promoting this event.”  Key Sponsors also included Blink Lending, Pervez Jasani, BitCare, and Dr.Freemu Varghese, & Dhanani Group.

Indeed it takes a village, and the village leaders really came through.  VPSS Haveli generously allowed the event to take place at their beautiful temple.  Thousands of people who had not seen this temple got their first look in amazement at the fine artwork and beautiful temple grounds.  Rashesh Dalal & Shailesh Patel of VPSS said “To play Holi is to pray for forgiveness of any past wrongdoings and Lord Krishna blessed us all with new hope, new life and a new beginning. Jai Shree Krishna.”  VPSS management was so welcoming and helpful in every aspect of the event organization.  Organic colors in cherry red, rosy pink, sun orange, mango yellow, lime green and peacock blue were sold by the Gujarati Samaj of Houston, one of Houston’s oldest Indo-American organizations.  India Culture Center, International Hindi Association and Hindus of Greater Houston sold pichkaris – modern day water guns which made easy targets of guests caught off-guard!

No industry has felt the pain of the pandemic more than the restaurant industry.  Many brave restaurants stretched their resources to offer tantalizing street foods at the festival.  Pablo’s created a Dosa Factory with traditional and fusion Dosas and had 45 min long lines to order fresh hot dosas.  Pablo said “I brought my entire team from both restaurants here to keep up with the crazy demand at Holi.  While others ran out of supplies by 3pm, we were serving to the very end. Pablos Restaurant is proud to be one of the title sponsors of this amazing event”    Mirch Masala served delicious chat varieties – a Mumbai street food type consisting of tamarind and cilantro chutneys with puffed breads, puffed rice, onions, tomatoes, and chickpeas.  Curry House came down from the North Side to offer their own Kerala style curries and payasam.  Bawarchi – boasting a 400 item menu at their restaurant in the heart of Little India on Hillcroft – served up their world famous biryani.  Ghamshyam Caterers offering typical Gujarati snacks like Khaman Dhokla, Khichu, Manchurian, Faloodas and the most divine Kachoris.  VPSS temple offered complimentary Prasad blessed by Lord Krishna, and also served typical HOLI fare – Gotas!  It was a hit and completely sold out.

Masala Radio CEO Sandhya Thakkar said “Lord Krishna blessed us with such a positive response both from sponsors and from the community that we had to constantly keep adding more tickets online and more infrastructure for the additional demand.  Our amazing crew was constantly updating shuttles, security, sound, water barrels almost daily.  It was a challenge but it came together so perfectly.”  Sunil Thakkar said “Thank you God for allowing us to have this event and giving us beautiful weather. Sandhya and the ladies of Masala channeled the divine powers of Hindu goddesses to put 6 months of work in 6 weeks.”   Masala Radio 98.7 FM would like to thank the peerless Masala Crew without whom nothing would be possible:  Office Management: Rinku, Bhavisha, Suji, Alisha, Manali, Rishi.  Event: Ninad, Dhaval, Shah, Ankit, Aditi, Bindi, Mrugesh, Samir.  Ticketing: Sangeeta, Meera, Jyotsna, Lauquel, Mala, Dinesh.  Stage: Haroon, Yumna, Dilip, Preanka, Rajoo, Josh, Anish, Vyoma, Harshin, Priyanshi, Simran, Sahil. DJs: DJ Tazmayne, DJ Tamim, Dj Boyd. Video: Tom Sunny. Photo: Hassan Studio, Hy Lee, Ayaan Ahsan.  Photos & Videos will be updated on HoustonHoli.com / Facebook & Instagram MasalaRadio 98.7FM