The Holi Festival in London, colourful to say the least!

3 … 2 … 1 … COLOOOOOOOOUR!

Screams the MC as everyone of us in the 15k strong crowd goes wild and launches a rainbow into the London summertime sky above.  Our previously white clothing is now a mash of reds, purples, blues, greens and yellows.  Our hair is also matted in a mesh of colour but no one cares, instead we drink beer, eat delicious curry and dance to the  deep beats that blared from the stage.

If you’d have walked past Battersea Power Station last weekend you’d have seen the powder rainbows on the hour every hour between 3pm and 9pm, and what you’d have been witnessing was the Holi Colour Festival – Londons best, worst (see token section below) and most colourful festival.

Holi Festival London

First, a little background on the Holi Colour Festival

So the Holi Colour Festival, other than being colourful, what’s it all about?  Well, firstly it celebrates the beginning of the new spring season, or the end of the winter season – depending upon which way you look at it.  The last month of winter is known as the lunar month (Phalguna – February/March), and the festival is celebrated on the Phalguna Purnima – the day of the full moon.

In most areas of northern India, where the festival is particular significance, Holi lasts about two days. During those two days, social norms and barriers are lowered and all people become equals.  No matter, age, gender, status, rich or poor, all people who celebrate Holi together and as equals.

Let colour rain!

Taking a rather large amount of influence from the traditional Hindu celebrations detailed above, the London version of the Holi Colour Festival was easily accessible, reasonably priced (£30 per ticket) and had a reassuring thorough bag search upon entry to the grounds at Battersea Power Station.

As you’d expect there was a carnival atmosphere, and this started the moment we exited Vauxhall underground station.  Around the train and bus station swarmed masses of bright white.  Passers by stared and double glanced as they tried to take in and understand why so many people were emerging from public transport in bright white.  To be fair we could have been at a march or formed part of a protest group, but we weren’t we were just out for a good time.

Inside the venue there were plenty of food and drink options, and as we were relativity early the tokens queue wasn’t yet monstrous.  We changed up some cash, grabbed a few beers, some coloured powder and then took a seat.  Some punters jumped the gun with their celebrations and already the white from their clothing was disappearing and in its place lots and lots of colour.  We however were determined to wait until the first countdown at 3pm.

Holi Festival London

Holi Festival London

Whilst I had gone for the simple look of white t-shirt and jean shorts, we noticed a few others getting a bit more creative with their attire.  Boiler suits, wedding dresses, sun umbrella’s were all to look amazing come 3.01pm after the first explosion of colour.  For the very first count down we decided to get right in amongst it.  We ventured as close to the stage as the crowds would allow, and then this happened …

… after which we looked like this …

Holi Festival London

Holi Festival London

… and we found that if you add water, this happens …

Holi Festival London

Holi Festival London

BHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  It looked like someone had been a wee bit greedy and shoveled far too many skittles into their gob, only to see them come back up again and down the back of my makes t-shirt technicolor yawn style.  Taste the rainbow indeed, bloody glorious!

After our first powder rainbow experience we decided to watch the next couple from a bit further back so that we’d get a different view of the afternoons celebrations.

Holi Festival London

Holi Festival London

Holi Festival London

It was simply beautiful to watch, like a well orchestrated fireworks display.  You almost expected a classical music clash of symbols to accompany the mass throwing of powder into the air, but instead there were backing tracks provided by the likes of Breakage and Keli from Block Party.  I’m quite a fan of EDM so I was naturally very happy!

By the 3rd of 4th countdown the powder was everywhere, we were sneezing purple and drinking beer with hints of blue and yellow, but it really didn’t matter, we were having a great time.  The DJ’s got the crowds hyped, the MC’s spouted ridiculous lines such as …

Big up the cameraman

… which had us in stitches.  We smeared powder on strangers, they did the same back after which we sat a while longer choosing to view the last of our countdowns from afar before making our way back to the tube and then getting more than our fair share of dodgy looks on the train home.  Home and two showers later I was still finding powder in my hair haha.

Those bloody tokens!

It feels like such as shame to detail this, but it was REALLY bad.  On a day when as mentioned, some 15k people flocked to the Battersea Power Station to enjoy the Holi Colour Festival, it pains me to say that at any one time at least 1-2k of those festival goers seemed to be stuck in queues for these sodding little tokens which were the currency on the day.  It was a total buzz kill for those who stood in the long lines, and of course with long lines brings pesky, disrespectful queue jumpers who helped kill the mood even further and if anything threatened to turn it violent as people got pissed off with being jumped ahead of.

Holi Festival London

Holi Festival London

Tokens in hand you then queued for the bars, some of which had lower prices than others. It didn’t take punters long to figure out which and so as a result the official bars where mainly empty whilst a sponsors bar couldn’t pour the pints quick enough to satisfy the thirsty festival goers.

As per any festival, the toilets were pretty rough and far few in numbers.  Another thing you had to queue for.

Back to the tokens though which really were the scourge of the day.  With only around 25-30 desks exchanging cash for tokens, there was always likely to be queue’s, but the queue’s weren’t the only issue.  £3 equated to 1 token, with each token having the potentially to be snapped in half.  We did well not to lose any, what with the tokens being so small, but I bet others weren’t so lucky.

Every other London festival I’ve been to has used cash – The Ealing Jazz Festival, SW4, The Ben and Jerry’s Festival – what was the point of the tokens?  I simply didn’t and still don’t get it.  They would have cost money to produce, required staff to man the token booths and will at some stage need to be counted by the bars and food stands and exchanged for cash.  LONG!  The only positive thing they prevented was bar staff having to deal with change … but is counting out change really that hard?

The Holi Colour Festival Verdict

I know I went to town on the ‘bloody tokens’ section there a bit, but arriving at the event in good time would have spared you the horrendous token queue’s, and those queues aside this was a simply brilliant festival!  The colour, the music, the people, the location … it all made for a mostly glorious day which I would certainly take part in again given half a chance.

If the Holi Colour Festival is to take place again in 2014, I would hope the token scheme be scrapped, and judging by some of the comments on the festivals Facebook fan page I do not believe I am alone in wanting this.  Another possible improvement my friends and I discuss was a change of location.  Whilst having the iconic chimneys of Battersea Power Station looking down on us, we couldn’t help but think that the festival might be even better if it were to take place somewhere a bit greener.  Clapham Common could have been a good choice.

Anyway, all in all it was a great day.  Thumbs up from me!

**A change of venue has now 100% been confirmed by the organsers who announced today (13/8/13) that Holi was the last open air festival to be held at Battersea Power Station.  They also confirmed they will be back in 2014.

Holi Festival London

2014 Holi Colour Festival Survival Guide

 So had the above wet you appetite for a bit of colour in 2014?   Here’s 5 things you’ll need to survive the day …

  1. White clothing
  2. Glasses or goggles
  3. A scarf
  4. A camera
  5. Money … and lots of it


Holi Festival London

I say lots of money because that’s what we spent.  To give you an idea, these are some of the costs we incurred …

  • Beer – 1.5 tokens (£4.50)
  • Chicken Curry + Rice – 2 tokens (£6.00)
  • 6 x bags of coloured powder – 4 tokens (£12.00)

For the most part it was money well spent though :)