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A brief guide to Holi: The festival of colours

A brief guide to Holi: The festival of colours

Our brand is all about bringing the beautiful colours and culture of India to UK. We are based in London and our shirts and waistcoats are handmade in England, but it is the beautiful ikat fabrics that make a JAYJEE stand out from the crowd. There is no better example of Indian tradition and how colour is used as a way of expression than the festival of Holi, the ‘festival of colours’. I was born in Kerala and worked for several years in the Mumbai fashion industry, so I often get asked about these crazy two days that happen each year…

When

Holi is celebrated the day after the full moon falls in Falguna, the twelfth month of the Hindu calendar. This year it is on 21st March, with celebrations starting the evening before on 20th March.

Mythology / Meaning

There are various legends associated with Holi. The most prominent is that of the demon King Hiranyakashyap. Considering himself a god, he ordered his people to worship him. However his young son, Prahalad, a great devotee of Lord Vishnu refused. In anger, the evil King plotted with his sister, herself immune to fire to murder him. The plan didn’t work though as Prahalad recited the name of Lord Vishnu throughout and was protected, instead Holika’s powers failed her and she was burnt to ashes - thus signifying the victory of good over evil.

How to celebrate it

The rituals start with bonfires the night before Holi and an evening of pujas (prayers). For the actual day of Holi people will gather outside and will greet each other by applying, in various ways, colour. Respectful greetings, to elders, will involve gently smearing bright shades of ‘gulal’ (coloured paint) on their faces. To the younger generation, this involves manically chasing each other around the streets and throwing the colours at every opportunity! To help get in the mood, the customary drink of Holi, bhang (which contains a lot of marijuana), is drunk. The streets will be filled with people going wild, dancing and singing as loud as possible to the rhythm of dholak (traditional folk songs played with drums). Lets just say it gets pretty crazy!

Sustainability

In earlier times Holi colours were prepared from the flowers of trees that blossomed during spring, such as the Flame of the Forest tree. These mainly red blossoms provided the raw material from which the brilliant shades of Holi colours were made (usually containing medicinal properties as well).

Over the years with the commercialisation of the festival, these natural colours have been replaced by industrial dyes manufactured through chemical processes. These are actually both harmful to the environment and to our skin.

At JAYJEE we care strongly about natural and sustainable processes. All our ikat fabrics sourced from India are handmade from natural dyes. Ikat is itself a specialist and ancient yarn dyeing technique performed by an ever-reducing number of artisans. So, whenever you buy your Holi colours, make sure you get natural colours or even better, make your own with recipes made from turmeric, beetroot and pomegranate.

Where to celebrate it

The festival is celebrated in almost every part of India by almost all religions. It is also referred to as the “festival of love”. But it’s also widely known that the northern states celebrate with the most fervour. Mathura and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh are famous pilgrimages and even hold week long celebrations. They get really stuck in! Delhi and all other northern cities are always energetic and boisterous in their celebrations too.

And of course, it is not just in India where you can celebrate Holi. It is also celebrated around the world, including a massive party at the ISCON temple in Utah. If you’re in London, a trip to Harrow or Southall is a must…it’s pretty much like being in India! 

Get in touch if you would like to know anything else. Otherwise get out there and go express yourself!

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