Friday, August 19, 2016

Colours Of Love: Holi Festivals

A few days ago I wrote about the satisfyingly weird fiesta for the Much in Sineu, an occasion when, amidst its bizarre elements such as invoking the mythical bull of that name, the thousands of attendees are invited to wear pink.

Dress code in terms of colour instruction for fiesta occasions has rarely gone beyond requirements to be in all white. There are various "white parties", one of the most notable if not the most notable being Pollensa's nighttime "marxa fresca". The whiteness for this party has its historical association: white being the colour of the clothing of the Christians doing battle with the Moors that is typically re-enacted a couple of days after the marxa fresca. They, the Moors, are by contrast portrayed as multi-coloured. Face paint and costumes, they bring flavours of the east to a fiesta occasion, the colours hinting at some form of devilment against the pureness of the white Christians.

Whiteness has thus tended to dominate, but the ever-changing nature of fiestas has disrupted this neutrality. Enter, therefore, and from somewhere further east than the Turkish centre of the Ottoman Empire, the Holi festival of India. Want colours? You've got them. Whole swatches are to be found at Holi happenings, powders thrown into the air and at each other. Several hundred or more Holi pilgrims might enter all in white but they exit as perambulating kaleidoscopes.

What is it with the Holi festival? It has suddenly become the new foam party. Indeed for real out and out colorific mess, the two can combine. Foam meets powder meets several hours under a shower and heavy demands made on washing-machines and town halls' street-cleaning services.

For the uninitiated, an explanation is probably required. The Holi is a Hindu spring festival. It is also known as the festival of colours or the festival of sharing love. Its origins may well go back to the fourth century AD, and the word "holi" is derived from "Holika", the evil sister of the demon king Hiranyakashipu. The tale of Holika and the fact that there is also a Holika bonfire as part of this ancient tradition provide a perhaps unexpected association with Mallorca: one via legends of fire and demons common to the two cultures.

Nice though this association can appear, it doesn't really explain why Holi festivals have become as ubiquitous as they have. Consult programmes for the island's fiestas (and not only the fiestas), and you will appreciate that there are times when you can barely move in Mallorca without being at risk of ending up looking like the incarnation of a psychedelic acid trip or indeed a poster for psychedelia circa the Summer of Love (the earlier one of the two, i.e. 1967's). There again, this would not be inappropriate, given the alternative title of Holi - sharing love.

So, is it all a bit hippy-dippy? Almost certainly it is. Hippy-dippy plus a bit of trippy in a contemporary style, albeit that chemical assistance is not required or indeed advocated. But anything with Indian origins is almost by definition hippy-dippy. Perhaps one of the odder aspects of Holi is that Lennon, McCartney, Harrison (especially Harrison), Starr and the various other one-time followers of the Maharishi didn't latch on to Holi and import it around the time of the Summer of Love.

The export of Holi had to do with the Indian diaspora. Hence it started to take hold in various parts of the globe, but its arrival in Mallorca would appear to be only very recent. From what I can ascertain the inaugural launch of Holi colours was just over two years ago, and its location was just off the old main road that links Can Picafort and Muro, specifically at the club La Roca.

Two promoters - Mallorca Research and Stravaganza - got together in staging the first ever Holi festival and dubbed the event Island Holi Festival. Since then, it hasn't so much snowballed as colourballed. Palma has had two mega holis in the Parc de la Mar and in May this year the city's Plaça Major was given a colour makeover. More than two thousand people crammed into the square in pursuit of becoming colourful.

At the recent Can Picafort fiestas, they had a Holi festival party that was described as the "most famous" on the island. As La Roca isn't far away, then it was probably fair to say it was the most famous, but in order for it to be given that accolade there had to be a fair selection to choose from. Which there most certainly is. No part of Mallorca has remained immune to the colours' takeover.

Other imported fiesta innovations, such as the batucada drummers, took some time to become all-pervasive. Holi colours have required only two years. Mallorca has become the colours of love.

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