Holi, I knew, was the Festival of Colours: a riotous, sensual carnival and day long abandonment of social mores, when people drink bang lassis and dance in the street. More than anything, it is an excuse to touch strangers: to rub colourful powder through another person’s hair and pour water over somebody else’s skin. Like the Christian Carnival, it is a day of sanctioned passions celebrated close to the spring equinox. Sin, during Holi, is ceremoniously burnt at the stake. The evening before the festival, all over India, drummers march through streets lit by a full moon. Wood and old furniture is collected in wheelbarrows at the households en route,and with every stop the procession grows. Men dance to the beat’s quick slap-slap-thwack and children cavort between their legs, some already coated in powder, their faces a mess of pinks, yellows and blues. The pile of wood is eventually built into an enormous bonfire and on it, a Guy representing the demoness Holika is burnt.
From Holi: India’s Festival of Colours, by Iain