The origins of Holi

Holi celebrations

There’s nothing quite like Holi. Literally, you have to see it to believe it.


All over India, hordes of ordinary people seem to lose their collective minds, abandon all sense of decorum and go a bit wild on the streets, chasing and pelting each other with gulal (coloured powders). As the vibrant powders are unleashed on enthusiastic – or unsuspecting – revellers, social boundaries are blurred with colour and for that one crazy day, anything goes.

The Holi festival comes around on the day after the full moon each March. Its roots lie in a Hindu legend, in which the wicked Holika, the sister of the demon Hiranyakashaypu, meets her demise in a blazing fire, and the good child Prahalad escapes unharmed. Holi celebrates this triumph of good over evil, the power of Prahalad’s faith, and it heralds the end of winter, spring’s grateful rebirth.

It has also become a chance (or more accurately, an excuse!) for Indians to shed their tightly-held inhibitions. The usual social strictures are delightfully subverted, leaving us free to indulge in feverish colour-play and light-hearted merrymaking. The fact that bhang (cannabis) is traditionally consumed at Holi, in thandai, lassi or pakoras, only casts a happy glow over  the playful nature of proceedings.

It could only be Holi when an employee dumps a bucket of coloured powder over his most senior colleague without fear of recrimination. Or when a usually conservative maasi (aunty) ends up soaked to the skin with dye, or when a younger brother flirts outrageously with his bhabhi (sister-in-law). Who can forget the scene in Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’, in which Maan – high on bhang – gently terrorises his bhabhi and dunks a college professor in a bathtub of pink liquid? Magical.

And by breaking down these social boundaries, Holi also brings us all together, regardless of caste, religion or social status. It’s a chance for us to forgive past transgressions and extend the hand of peace; a day of chaos and joyful, exuberant mess that can somehow wipe the slate clean.

This year at Dishoom, we wanted to celebrate this slightly barmy, fun-filled festival of Holi, so we'll be serving a special version of our Bhang Lassi, infused with CBD bitters instead of the traditional bhang (cannabis!), and finished with a colourful powder-flourish. Wishing you all an awesome day filled with joy, colour and love.

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