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UC Merced students celebrate Indian "Festival of Colors"

A water balloon fight between a group of students may seem like only good clean fun.For several UC Merced students on Friday, however, the activity took on far deeper meaning.More than a dozen students gathered on a field at the school to celebrate the annual “Festival of Colors.”

Also referred to as “Holi,” the Festival of Colors is a traditional Hindu spring festival recognized throughout India.

During the celebration, participants apply colorful powders or body paint on one another.At UC Merced, the students wetted one another down with water balloons and a garden hose to help the colored powered stick to their bodies.

Although the festival is usually celebrated in March, students celebrated it this month so it wouldn’t conflict with spring break.

The event was sponsored by the school’s Desi Student Association.

Simrita Kaur, the association’s president, said the colorful celebration also honors and represents the diverse ethnic backgrounds that make up UC Merced’s student population.Kaur said she’s been celebrating the festival since she was a child.

“We wanted to give some of our culture to the rest of the students,” said Liliana Legarda, another member of the Desi Student Association.

While the Festival of Colors may be known as an Indian and Hindu holiday, most of the students who let their hair down Friday came from a wide range of backgrounds.

“I actually want the color to get on me. I like color,” said Jennifer Lettsome, 18, a UC Merced Student from Baldwin Hills.

“Indian culture is pretty cool,” said Theilson Da Silva, 19, a UC Merced student from Piedmont.According to the Web site,, the celebration has existed since before the time of Jesus Christ.

Although the meaning of the festival has changed over the centuries, it was first a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families, according to the site.

At UC Merced, it offered students from several nations, religions and cultures a chance to celebrate their similarities and differences — and spring itself.Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or