Holi events: the Hindu ritual given a colourful new lease of life

'It’s so friendly and so open that it’s like a feeling  of Woodstock'

A religious festival dating back thousands of years is inspiring a new generation of clubbers and festivalgoers to use clouds of paint powder to turn each other into human rainbows.

The growing popularity of mass “paint fights” – at events where people hurl bags of brightly coloured powder over each other – is inspired by the Hindu religious festival of Holi. Vivid shades of red, yellow, pink, green and magenta are typically used by Hindus to celebrate the victory of the spring over the winter.

Although Holi events take place each March within Hindu communities around the world, the idea of throwing paint powder around has moved away from a religious context and into the mainstream. A paint-throwing session was one of the highlights of the Secret Garden Party festival in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, last weekend. And last month 15,000 people took part in a 5km fun run in London in which they were covered in powdered paint with each passing kilometre.

Tens of thousands of Britons will flock to more Holi-themed festivals in London and Manchester over the summer. Saturday will see around 15,000 people flock to Battersea Power Station, London, for the Holi One festival, followed by another event at the same venue next weekend. And 10,000 are expected to attend an event at Heaton Park, Manchester, later this month.

Holi One says it is not a religious event, but is about “promoting the ideas of togetherness and the colour of everyday life”.

Organisers say part of the attraction of covering each other in paint powder is that it removes the normal barriers of appearance – with everyone feeling more relaxed as a result.

It’s a lucrative business, with an all-day pass including five bags of paint powder costing £38. Stephan Dau, from Holi One Production UG, admits the festival is “a commercial event” but claims part of its success is creating an atmosphere where people feel equal. “It’s so friendly, the event, and so open that it’s like a feeling of Woodstock,” he said.

Next weekend’s Battersea event, the Holi Festival of Colours London, will see Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke perform as a DJ.

“It is clear that there is a great interest for this festival in the UK. The first date was sold out so fast that we decided to organise a second date, which has now sold out as well,” said Marius Hering, from Holi Concept GmbH, the organisers of the event.

The idea of promoting music events with a Holi paint-throwing element was developed by German entrepreneur Jasper Hellmann last year, after a trip to India when he witnessed a traditional Holi celebration.

Britain’s Hindu community welcomes the trend. Swaminathan Vaidyanathan, the secretary-general of the Hindu Forum of Britain, said: “We are not particularly concerned if people want to have some fun time and enjoy as Hindu tradition always stands for universal happiness.”

But associating Holi with events organised at any time of the year “degrades the importance” of a festival which should take place only on full-moon day in March, claimed Jaswant Maicha, the chair of the Adhya Shakti Mataji Temple in Uxbridge, London.