It's a surreal experience to celebrate Holi or the Festival of Color in Spanish Fork, Utah. Most of the people who converged on the Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple yesterday were BYU students reveling in their own form of spring break.
In the legend commemorated by the festival, an evil king named Hiranyakashipu forbids his son Prahlad from worshipping Vishnu. But Radhu rebelliously continued to offer prayers to the god. Getting angry with his son, Hiranyakashipu challenged Prahlad to sit on a pyre with his wicked aunt Holika who was believed to be immune to fire.
Prahlad accepted the challenge and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika was burned to death, while Prahlad survived without a scar.
The burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi. According to some accounts, Holika begged Prahlad for forgiveness before her demise, and he decreed that she would be remembered every year at Holi.
Part of the beauty of the celebration is that once the colors are thrown over the crown, everyone is the same colorful combination. They shed their differences and become one. The irony of the festival in Utah is that most of the 15,000 BYU students there looked more alike before the throwing of the colors than after.