Colour Monsoon

    Colour Monsoon
    By admin

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    India's monsoon of colour

    India's monsoon of colour
    By admin

    India is renowned for its monsoonal showers, but on one day in March the rain that falls is a multi-coloured spectacular. The Holi festival is an excuse to release your inner child. Some may dream of bathing in spaghetti, others may relish squashed tomato fights, but this is the festival that kaleidoscope fantasies are made of. Blue, green, red, yellow, pink and purple clouds billow out from the crowds while the amalgamation of these shades is a vision in brown. 

    The world's brightest festival is held on the full moon day in the month of March and this year it takes place on March 27. Showers of coloured dust represent the start of spring and, perhaps ironically given it is hay fever season, trigger a fair few sneezes. Embraced by all citizens, this is a festival where caste and social regulation is transcended. Workers throw powder at the boss, teenagers dust their crush, and husbands can wreak pink-coloured revenge on their mother-in-law.


    Holi is a Hindu festival and yet it is one of the most secular and accessible events held anywhere in India. The legend began with a demon king named Hiranyakashyap who wanted to kill his son for worshipping Vishnu rather than himself. His sister Holika was immune to fire so he asked her to carry his son into the flames. All did not go as planned however; Vishnu stepped in to blanket the son, negating Holika's immunity, and she was burnt to a cinder. In memory of this event, bonfires are lit the night before the festival on Holi eve. The bonfires are lit between 10pm and midnight, whichever time the moon rises.

    An affiliated legend speaks of a child-tormenting ogress who was forced to flee on the day of Holi. Children therefore have a free rein to make as much mischief as possible on Holi and you will find them squirting passers-by with water guns and flinging water balloons from buildings. 

    Yet another legend comes from Lord Krishna's love for Radha. Krishna was perturbed by the contrast of his dark skin to Radha's pale complexion. Krishna's mother advised him to rub colour into her face so that they would be better aligned and this is believed to have influenced the tradition of the Holi festival. 


    Indians are freed from the restraints of caste and societal expectations – which can make for some rather inappropriate behaviour, by Indian standards at least. A frequent refrain is "bura na mano, Holi hai" which translates as the wide-ranging excuse of "don't feel offended, it's Holi". 

    Women and the elderly therefore stick together, travelling in groups and applying colour as a way of greeting one another. If you see someone truly going for it, there's not something in the powder, but there is something in the cannabis paste. Many festival goers will be high as it is a tradition to consume bhang filled delicacies on this day. With inhibitions lowered, the merry-making is even more over the top. If you want to avoid it, don't take treats from strangers.


    Like sand, the coloured specks will worm into your clothes, your nose, ears and underpants. But it is all in good humour and the chances are you will walk away with a chalk-filled mouth from smiling nonstop. It's not just particle driven either – coloured water is also deployed to make the powders stick. 

    Traditionally spice is dyed in preparation for the festivities and local vendors can be found selling rows of metal bowls piled high with the substance. The dye used to be created from flowers and plant material but nowadays artificial colours are used as well. Historically the petals of a red tree were dried and then ground to a fine residue the colour of saffron.

    Red symbolises matrimony in India, blue is associated with Hindu god Krishna while green represents harvest – and hence, spring. The colours you won't see are black and white. In Indian culture white symbolises mourning and black keeps evil at bay.


    In West Bengal an extra element is added with Dolayatra, a Swing Festival, but not of the dancing or, ahem, other variety. Gods are sat on extravagantly dressed platforms that the faithful then swing in the air. In this region the festival happens a day before the celebrations in the rest of the nation. 

    In Jaipur an Elephant festival takes place alongside Holi. The elephants are painted in intricate and bright patterns and paraded to the people. As extras, there are elephant beauty contests and a trunked tug-of-war competition.

    Elsewhere, in New Delhi, the capital hosts a music festival to coincide with Holi called Holi Cow! Concert-goers are bathed in colour while sprinklers and bhang lassi up the ante. The crowd is a good mix of expats and locals.
    And in Mathura, serious party goers can take part in a 40-day pre-Holi party. This temple town is located in the north of India and has a strong association with Krishna which means the lead-up is just as important as the day with dancing, singing and plays that pay homage to Krishna taking place beforehand.

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