Let’s make one thing clear; I am not reviewing the Hindu tradition.
I’m not so ridiculous to think that I can write an article about an annual, traditional religious event. Unlike Kanye West, I don’t believe I am a God who can judge these things. This article is about the Festival of Colours, organised by Holi Concept GmbH and staged this year at Battersea Power Station.
The religious tradition in question, for those too lazy to Wikipedia, is a Hindu event held as Winter becomes Spring and flowers begin to bloom, commemorating a fresh season and new start. The powdered colours and pungent perfumes that are thrown represent the new colours of the season and many powders are believed to have medicinal purposes, staving off the various ailments that often accompany the cold weather.
…it has been assimilated into Western culture…
With the recent phenomena of globalisation and emigration, Holi has spread to all corners of the world, especially the United States, where I witnessed a very energetic Holi celebration at a college campus last Spring. However it seems that the more the festival has spread, the more the activity of throwing powder at each other has been divorced from its roots as a religious celebration. Rather, it has been assimilated into Western culture, the coloured powder adopted to signify togetherness, unity and celebration of life and love, rather than the coming of Spring or any religious significance.
Enter Holi Concept GmbH; set up by three Germans, last year the company took the Holi Festival of Colours to four German cities and landed in London this year to replicate their success. The choice of Battersea Power Station provided an imposing and impressive background, however less glamorous was our actual location – the concrete lot just outside the station. In retrospect this choice made perfect sense, considering what a colourful mess was made.
…one of unity, love and representing London…
We poured into the venue one hot Saturday afternoon, choosing to turn up an hour before the first mass powder-throwing at 3pm. The atmosphere was festival-like; ticket-holders, with a average age of twenty, sat on the concrete, lukewarm beer in hand, clad head-to-toe in white and eagerly holding their bags of powder waiting for the countdown.
Despite the obvious and self-stated removal from religious connotation, the organisers paid homage to Holi’s origins with Buddha and Ganesha imagery on the fencing to the side of the stage, as well as Bindis that adorned every twenty-something girl’s forehead. That was the only connection to Hinduism or India; the event’s compéres declared the event one of unity, love and representing London, all through the simple action of throwing powder, whilst being careful to close your eyes and airways. (I blew my nose later in the day and some pink sludge came out. This is not natural.)
…throw powder and dance to club music for up to ten hours…
What struck me about the event is that it is incredibly expensive; an early bird ticket is £29.44 and the only powder that can be used has to be bought on-site for £3 per two small-ish bags. The regular ticket costs £34.70 – no powder included – whilst the Holi Fan Package sets you back £48.40 and provides entry, a fan t-shirt and five bags of powder. Factor in food, drink and no doubt a few more bags of powder and you’re easily looking at £50, whichever ticket you opt for.
Despite top names such as Kele of Bloc Party and MistaJam featuring on the stage, I still find £50 a big ask for an event at which you essentially throw powder and dance to club music for up to ten hours. Perhaps that’s my age talking. Regardless, something you can be sure of is a colourful, loud and fun time, in which revellers will throw powder over your hair, pick you up when you fall into a pothole and offer you their powder if you haven’t got any. Basically, it’s one colourful, loud festival of loved-up fun.