With an estimated 400,000 Hindus living in London, it's no surprise that Holi Festival has made it to the capital. London's Hindu population is largely based in west London — in particular the boroughs of Harrow and Brent — but Holi events take place all over. Here's what you need to know.
What is Holi Festival?
Holi Festival traditionally marks the start of spring in India, as well as the triumph of good over evil, and is one of the country's most widely celebrated festivals. Also known as 'the festival of colours' and the 'festival of love', it is celebrated over the course of a night and a day. The festival's name and origins lie in the legend of Holika and Prahlad.
How is Holi Festival celebrated?
The first evening is known as Holika Dahan (though names vary in different regions), and sees a bonfire lit after sunset to symbolise good over evil, and the act of Holika leading Prahlad into the fire. People gather around to sing and dance, and bonfires are often adorned with effigies of Holika.
This is followed by the day of Holi, or Rangwali Holi, when people take to the streets to throw coloured powder and spray coloured water over each other — the image that many non-Hindus think of when the festival is mentioned. It's a day of fun and enjoyment, when traditional social barriers are broken down — children are allowed to throw coloured powders at their elders, and vice versa. Traditional sweets are handed out among family and friends, and adult imbibe drinks prepared with bhang, an edible form of cannabis.
Who celebrates Holi Festival?
Holi is a religious Hindu festival that originated in India, but is also widely celebrated in other parts of South Asia, including Nepal and Pakistan, as well as by Hindus all over the world.
When is Holi Festival 2020?
This year's Holi Festival takes place on 9-10 March 2020. The date each year depends on the lunar cycle — Holi starts in the evening of Purnima, or the Full Moon Day, in the Hindu month of Falgun, of Phalguna (which runs February-March in the Gregorian calendar).
It will be celebrated on 28-29 March 2021.
Holi celebrations outside India
In recent years, Holi Festival has been increasingly celebrated outside of India, including in the Western world — though not all events stay true to the festival's cultural and religious significance. There have been accusations of cultural appropriation against events here in the UK, which take 'inspiration' from Holi traditions without fully acknowledging their roots.
Such events include, but are not limited to, experiences where coloured dye is thrown over participants, such as The Color Run and Color Obstacle Rush. The former mentions Holi as an 'inspiration', something which some who celebrate Holi have claimed is 'more insulting' than not mentioning it at all, when the event pays no homage to Holi beyond the appealing aesthetics.
Conversely, there's the argument that such events allow those who grew up in India but no longer live there, to celebrate Holi, or at least some aspect of it, here in the UK, and to introduce their children to it. And there are those who argue that it's no different than non-Christians swapping Christmas presents or Easter eggs.
If you want to appreciate, rather than appropriate, Holi Festival, guidelines are to look for events organised by members of, or rooted in, the Hindu community. The overall ethos of the Festival is one of inclusion and participation, so non-Hindus are usually welcomed.
Holi Festival events in London this year
For Hindus in London who want to celebrate Holi, or for anyone else who wants to learn more about the festival, here are the best Holi events in London this year.
- The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir — also known as Neasden Temple — holds a Holi bonfire on the evening of Monday 9 March. Get a closer look inside the temple.
- Mangalam, a Hindu cultural and religious group, organises Managalam Holi Mahotsav, a family-friendly Holi Festival event in Feltham. Focus is very much on Indian culture, with food, live DJs, and of course, a chance to get involved in the colour play.
- Chef Niku — a company run by Nikitesh Jaiswal, who grew up in Nagpur, India — runs a Holi Festival supper club at The Little Yellow Door in Notting Hill. Celebrate the arrival of spring with four traditional Indian dishes, plus Holi-inspired drinks and Bollywood and Bhangra music.
- Satrangi Aasma, an organisation which promotes Indian culture in south-east London, hosts a Holi-themed family day out at Townley Grammar School in Bexley. Indian food, dancing, music and drumming all feature, including live Bollywood performances. It all culminates with colour play, a chance to indulge in the throwing of the coloured powders.
We also suggest keeping an eye on London's best Indian restaurants to see whether they're serving any special Holi menus or feasts. In particular, Dishoom usually celebrates Holi very well, but tickets are snapped up quickly.
Know of any other Holi celebrations going on in London? Let us know in the comments.