Even if you know little of the myth and legend surrounding the Hindu festival of Holi, you’ll no doubt know it from the paint-throwing parties that are fast becoming legendary throughout the land; turning the ‘green and pleasant’ landscape Britain’s best known for every colour of the rainbow.
There’s something about flinging a fistful of gulal – coloured pigment powder – into the air. Your cares seem to go with it into the ether; then there’s a feeling of sheer euphoria as it rains down on your skin, hair, and clothes, settling in all the nooks and crannies you never knew you had.
If you partake in one of these parties, you’ll know about it for days. But that’s no reason to stay away. You will, of course, eventually return to your usual colour. And until then, depending on your tint, you can just blame it on jaundice, a heart condition, or sheer apoplexy. It’s nothing a bit of extensive washing won’t cure, and you’d be mad to miss out.
In India, Holi occurs on the full moon day in the lunar month of Phalgun – this year, that’s Monday 17th March. Whattay way to start the week, eh? The date marks the start of springtime, and the day when divides are cast aside and young and old, rich and poor, male and female will come together to party hearty.
The popularity of gulal-throwing and water-pistol pumping is in the Hindu god Krishna’s honour; Lord, did that mischievous little blue boy love to taunt the milkmaids by drenching them in coloured water. Those festivities alone are guaranteed to get you hot and bothered, but not as much as the bonfires set ablaze on Holi eve.
These festive fires symbolise the triumph of good over evil – much like the light at Diwali. At Holi, the horrid hag Holika is the villain of legend. Her mission? To murder a demonic nobleman’s son. Since she herself was immune to fire, this was her weapon of choice. But the benevolent gods decreed twas not to be, and it was Holika herself who perished.
Cherished foods at Holi are frequently fatty, fried and/or sugar-laden. They need to be in order to supply enough sustenance to keep energy high enough for the hijinks. Want more ‘bhang’ for your buck? Many festive foods come laced with cannabis – notably, the traditional beverage ‘thandai’; savoury, donut-like vadas; and crispy-fried pakoray. The naughtiest way to say ‘Holi hai!’
Wondering where one can get their Holi kicks in the UK? Fix your eyes firmly on this little lot:
Britain’s very own beloved, bonkers Irani cafe has been holding Holi hellraisers for a fair few years in inimitable style. Last year’s pop-up paint party was perfection, captured here in glorious technicolour. This year the team are trying to topple themselves from the top of the tree, with a bigger, better, brighter bash held at Hawker House.
It’s greater than gulal; the luminous Vayu Naidu will be doing her story-spinning thing, kids get to render rangoli, thumping tunes will fill the air, and bellies will be filled with sufficient Bombay snacks to fuel the festivities. Don’t make so merry that you forget to save room for a spot of mithai-munching and a tumbler or three of complimentary chai…
City boys (and gals) are certain to go crackers for the chance to cover their gladdest rags in powder paint. Decorating their designer labels aint no thing. These folks can afford the dry cleaning, yo! So Cinnamon Kitchen’s inaugural pop-up ‘House of Holi‘ will no doubt prove popular with the prole and the poshos alike.
- 30 minutes of mayhem comes at a cost of £8 per participant, from 11th to 22nd March. For further details, click here.
It’s worth a trek to Northwest London at anytime simply to see the spectacle that is Neasden’s marvellous mandir rising above the houses. But at Holi, things get wholly more interesting. Understandably, paint-throwing in the pristine building is not permitted; the focus falls instead on the bonfires of Holi Eve. The blaze begins at 5pm with evening arti. Visitors can view the icons, perform puja, and stuff themselves silly on the sweets and snacks sold on site.
Restaurateur Kavita Pal has had enough of missing Holi in India for the past three decades, so she’s decided to delight Oxford’s dons and local residents alike with the colourful proceedings instead. On Saturday 15th March, visitors to The Tree Hotels at both Iffley and Cadmore End can get covered in colour, get down to live dhol and banging Bhangra, and enjoy a menu of Indian street eats.
The tranquil Hare Krishna hideaway on the outskirts of Watford will become a little more frenzied when Holi happenings commence. The full festivities fall on Sunday 16th March, beginning with bhajans from 2pm. Colours will fly before darkness falls, then a bonfire will light up the night as Holika burns. If you’ve built a burning appetite, Bhaktivedanta’s brilliant prasad will be served from 6pm.
Fancy a free family afternoon of festivities? Head to Manchester’s Platt Fields Park on Sunday 23th March, when Holi celebrations are being held at the Lakeside. If you come ill-equipped, gulal will be on sale at bargainous prices – so there’s no excuse to keep it clean. Numerous stalls ensure ample opportunity to eat, drink and make very merry.
- For more information on Platt Fields Park’s Holi event, email email@example.com
As if evading fistfuls of powder paint weren’t aerobic exercise enough, Dulux’s trademark 5K ‘Colour Runs’ return to the UK later this year, with locations including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Brighton. Participants are given a differently-coloured dousing at each kilometre, culminating in a glorious gulal party at the finish line. This year’s races’ places were snapped up immediately, but both volunteering and simply spectating allow you to get into that Holi spirit.
- For dates, locations, and to find out more about volunteering and spectating at Dulux Colour Runs, click here.
If you fancy a second go at the colourful celebrations, the globe-trotting Holi Festival of Colours hits East London on June 28th. It’s more about the glory of the gulal than it is about the spiritual side of Holi, but there’s no doubt it’s one of summer’s very best excuses to get legitimately down and dirty.
Last but not least, the date of Holi also marks St. Patrick’s Day, AND Arun Kapil’s birthday. The confluence is an especially happy coincidence as he’s the founder of Irish-Indian spice company Green Saffron. Happy Birthday Arun!
Even the staff don’t keep it clean at Dishoom on Holi. They’ll be getting down and dirty getting ready to greet guests covered in colour. If you want to see the spectacle and munch free mithai, a Monday visit is a must – although the Holi menu will be available until the 23rd. Sociable sorts should like and follow Dishoom on Facebook and Twitter, where fans will be privy to passwords for free treats.
The colour-your-own lassi will please those who can’t pass a pile of virgin snow without making their mark. Veggies get okra fries, paneer besimal and biryani; non-veggies cod cheeks, lamb kofta aloo and murgh malai; and everyone gets gujjia chaat , black dal, raita, bread-rice-n-salad, Memsahib’s Mess. Plus, of course, non-negotiable House Chai.
When chef Abdul Yaseen can tear himself away from playing in the restaurant’s pop-up House of Holi, he’ll be cooking up a five-course festive feast featuring bhalla papri chaat, Pasanda-style Kentish lamb, a saffron-streaked thandai, Bengali-inspired mustard prawns and a mixture of thoroughly modern mithai. Veggie options are equally enticing, including creamy lotus stem korma.
- Cinnamon Kitchen’s 5-course Holi menu costs £45 per person. For more information and to book, click here.
Cinnamon Kitchen’s bar is bringing a whole lot of Holi colour to the cocktail menu. The terrific triumvirate look lively and also pack a punch – choose from ‘Holika Fire’, ‘Lasso’ or ‘Neela Heera’, or try the lot. Line your stomach with bites from a capsule collection of spicy snackerels like kachoris and lamb-topped mathries. Something sweeter? Gorge on gujias and coconut burfi.
I could link to all sorts of edibles, but Tasty Indian Recipes and Dassana have done it for me with fulsome Holi feast where you’ll find every recipe you require, including the latter lady’s aesthetically-pleasing apple gujiya pictured in this post.
Except that bhang-ing thandai. That’s here.
AND DON’T FORGET…
No gulal, no glory. Get every shade of non-toxic powder paint here.
Because other shades won’t show off that glorious gulal to the same extent.
Best not lace it with bhang unless you want banging up.
Best gained from plentiful amounts of proper mithai and fried snacks.
Please kindly turn that frown upside down. Grin or go home.