Diverse Voices: Friends of India Society Brings 16th Annual Kite & Color Festival to Cumberland County


BY DANIEL WINNER | Front Runner New Jersey Correspondent

MILLVILLE — On Saturday, June 8, the Friends of India Society hosted their 16th Annual Kite & Color Festival at the Cumberland County Fairgrounds, bringing Indian culture back for everyone in South Jersey to enjoy a day of family fun and dispel illusions about the Indian community. The Kite & Color Festival is a mashup of two Hindu festivals: Holi and Makar Sankranti

Holi, also known as the “Festival of Colors,” is an especially popular observance among the international Indian diaspora. Celebrated on March 25 this year, Holi commemorates the eternal love between Radha and Krishna, as well as the triumph of good versus evil. The holiday is celebrated with non-toxic colored powder called “gulal.” Participants throw various colors of gulal at each other, creating a vibrant crowd of people reminiscent of blooming spring flowers. 

Makar Sankranti, also called Sankranti, was observed on January 15 this year and marks the sun’s transition into the zodiac sign Makara, known in the West as Capricorn. Hindus often honor the sun deity Surya on this day in remembrance of the sun’s journey from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere. The occasion is often celebrated with festivals featuring fireworks, bonfires and flying kites.

Co-founder Yogesh Thakur was thrilled with the turnout for this year’s bash. Front Runner New Jersey asked about the organization, and Thakur was proud to share how the Friends of India Society has contributed to the community since its incorporation as a nonprofit in 2006.

“Our mission is to promote and preserve the culture and heritage of India, and to introduce it to the mainstream community. I would request everybody to come. When we do events, come and see. A lot of your myths will vanish.

“Indians are different now because we are part of this community over here. One thing I would like to say, being a nonprofit, we help other nonprofits by donating. Since 2006, [we donated] over $100,000 to other nonprofits; the American Cancer Society, Salvation Army, [etc]. So we are involved in the community. That’s the main idea to teach our kids: the importance of giving.”

Live entertainment included Zumba by KimBah and a performance by drumming troupe Dhol Tasha Jallosh USA. The guest of honor was Yaduraj Choudhary, founder of 3 Tiny Bones, a student-led non-profit which works to destigmatize hearing loss and educate communities on creating an inclusive society for youth who are deaf or hard of hearing. Food was provided by BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, a Hindu temple located in Cherry Hill. 

Founder & Trustee of Indian Roots USA Mukund Khisty told Front Runner New Jersey about his drum troupe Dhol Tasha Jallosh, also known simply as Jallosh.

“The meaning of ‘Jallosh’ is ‘celebration.’ What we do with the big instruments is celebrate. If you know a little bit about Indian culture, or Hindu culture, we celebrate everything! So this is the event where we celebrate colors and we celebrate kites. So [we] fly high in the air and then just be on the ground playing with different colors. It’s an extremely fun event. We don’t miss this event.

“We are part of a Central and North Jersey group,” Khisty said about his organization. “We have a group of more than 120 volunteers. What we do is we play these instruments, we solicit funds, and we help the children who are from underprivileged families. And that’s what we do. But this whole community is actually gathered together with the whole spirit of togetherness. And that is exactly what is important for us.”

Children play with water guns called “pichkari.”

“In South Jersey there are thousands, but in this area — Millville, Bridgeton, Vineland — there are maybe 200 families,” said Thakur. “We are here for their every need. If anybody has any issues or anything, we are here. We are not a huge community, so we are all very well connected. We are here for everybody’s good moments and bad moments. When the people need us more, we are here. That is why this organization is so strong. We are a few people, but [we are] a very strong organization.”

About 2,000 people attended the event, with some families traveling from as far as North Carolina, Ohio and Canada. According to a 2023 census, more than 41% of the Asian population in New Jersey identifies as Indian. That adds up to 432,883 people, making Indian Americans the largest Asian group in the state.

The 16th Annual Kite & Color Festival was made possible partly through support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Cumberland County Cultural and Heritage Commission. The event was sponsored by Atlantic Medical Imaging, CompleteCare Health Network, First National Bank of America, Vineland Wholesale, Inspira Health, Vatan Indian Vegetarian Cuisine & Bakery, and many more.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Winner has a double major in Religious Studies and Japanese from Penn State University and has traveled internationally to the Far East on several occasions. His insights on religious traditions and Asian culture give a unique view of historical and modern trends. He will be serving as a contributor for Front Runner New Jersey.





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