What’s not to like about Holi? It is a festival of love. It celebrates the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Good triumphs over evil. It is the time to rekindle old friendships. It starts in the evening with a bonfire and the following day, people spray each other with coloured powder and water. Alcohol and bhang (a drink containing marijuana) lubricate the festivities.

It has its roots in Hinduism. The bonfire symbolises the ordeal of Prahlada, a young devotee of Vishnu. His father, King Hiranyakashipu,  declared himself to be a god, but Prahlada would not worship him. The king decided to kill his son, but boiling oil, poisonous snakes and rampaging elephants didn’t do the trick. So he got his sister, Holika (who had an asbestos cape), to walk into a bonfire with Prahlada. She was burned to a crisp, and he survived. This explains the ritual of bonfire. Vishnu took the form of Narasimha, half man-half lion, and eviscerated the king.

Krishna was poisoned by the breast milk of the demon Putana, so he became a “blue baby”. As he grew up, he thought that no fair girls would fancy a blue bloke. He told his mother, Yasoda, and she suggested he paint the face of the girl he fancied, Radha, all the colours of the rainbow. He did this and true love blossomed. We are all equal on Holi – we can splash colour on our friends, our neighbours, our elders, our enemies and even on strangers (that’s where I come in). There are no rules. And we are making a fresh start after washing it all off.

The newspaper gives advice about the etiquette of using water bombs, avoiding indelible paint, rubbing coconut oil into your skin to facilitate removal of coloured dye or powder. Some people daub themselves with the colours they prefer, to show willing, but on their terms. At the end of last week, the children coming out of school were completely covered in dye. It was intense.

So, some photographs to go with the words.

By Dr Alfred Prunesquallor

Maverick doctor with 40 years experience, I reduced my NHS commitment in 2013. I am now enjoying being free lance, working where I am needed overseas. Now I am working in the UK helping with the current coronavirus pandemic.


  1. The Persians celebrate the last wed (festival of fire) of the year before thier new year start on the 21st of March / 1st day of spring . I wonder if the festival of fire in India has somehow interrelated or crossed over or v. versa .

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