The Holi Festival in Germany: the brightest multi-coloured party in the world
Holi Festivals are currently taking Germany by storm. At a given point in a Holi Festival, several thousand young people throw brightly coloured powder at each other. This fun event has its origins in an Indian religious celebration held each spring. But what do Germany-Alumni from India make of this commercial take on their traditional festival?
In 2012, Jasper Hellmann, an events manager from Berlin, was in Delhi during the Indian month of Phalguna (February/March). Suddenly, he found himself surrounded by Indians dancing and enthusiastically throwing coloured powder and coloured water at each other. What Hellmann was caught up in was the Hindu festival of Holi, an annual celebration of spring, which sees people of all ages, genders and castes coating each other in coloured powder, or ‘gulal’. He recalls, ‘For a few days, everyone looks the same – and everyone is multi-coloured. I thought it was a wonderful idea.’
Back in Germany, Hellmann set up a company – Holi Concept GmbH – and laid the foundations for what has turned into Germany’s largest fun event. The ‘Holi Festival of Colours’ now attracts tens of thousands of young people every year. Detached from its religious roots, Germany’s version of Holi takes place in fenced-off areas between mid-May and late August, when the weather is good, rather than on the streets during spring, as the Indian festival does. Another difference is that the throwing of the coloured powder takes place on the hour, after a mass countdown, rather than at random times. And there’s other evidence of the German influence, too: Holi participants in Germany are not allowed to use Indian ‘gulal’ and have to buy special locally produced powder that meets stringent health and safety criteria.
Holi Festival: community fun with a touch of exoticism
The Holi Festival trend has spread from Germany to cities such as London, Barcelona and Amsterdam, which all now hold their own festivals. Most of those throwing the yellow, blue, green and pink powder at each other are young women. The craze has even reached Africa, South America and Australia. In Germany alone, Holi Concept GmbH expects around 150,000 participants at events across 14 towns and cities in 2015. And that means good business, with tickets costing around 20 Euros and those essential bags of powder around 2 Euros each.
The Holi Festival clearly ticks a number of boxes in terms of what young people now want from a fun event. It creates an atmosphere of freedom and community. It combines the familiar tones of techno music on a show stage with a touch of exoticism. And it’s the perfect opportunity for taking the most amazing selfies and posting them on social media. In fact, the selfie trend is why Holi Festivals start in the early afternoon: that’s when the light is best.
Picture gallery ‘Holi Festival of Colours’
Is it Holi without the colours?
Two alumni from India, Aadishree Jamkhedkar and Puneet Nangia, haven’t yet had a chance to participate in a German Holi Festival. Aadishree celebrates Holi in the traditional way with her family, though there’s no coloured powder involved. Puneet is no longer a great fan of Holi: ‘Many people here throw powder that’s difficult to get off. And I don’t really want to be going to work with a brightly coloured face’, he says.
Read on to find out what the two Germany-Alumni have to say about Germany’s fun version of Holi.
Have you been surprised at how popular Germany’s Holi Festival of Colours has been?
Aadishree Jamkhedkar: Yes, very surprised! All I knew was that over the past few years, Holi had become more important in Germany. I wasn’t aware that it was being celebrated in such a commercialised way! The photos I’ve seen look crazy.
Puneet Nangia: No, it doesn’t really surprise me because of the old links between German and Sanskrit. In any case, we live in a globalised world, and more and more people now want to find out about new cultures. It means that festivals are no longer specific to one country.
The organisers stress that their Holi Festival is purely a fun event. What do you make of that?
Aadishree Jamkhedkar: When I was a child in India, the main thing that Holi meant to me was fun with my family and friends. It’s true that Germany’s Holi Festival loses the traditional element of the celebration, but there’s still the chance to spend time with other people and enjoy yourself. I’m glad that’s still the case.
Puneet Nangia: But Holi has also lost some of its religious significance in India too! The celebrations bring friends and family together, though, and that’s important. I think it’s fantastic that it’s now happening outside India too.
Aadishree Jamkhedkar studied translation at Mainz University’s Language Centre in 2012. She is currently working in the Special Projects and Continuing Training Department of the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce.
Puneet Nangia received a bursary to study languages at advanced level at the Goethe-Institut in Berlin in 2003. He is currently working for the Marketing and Communications Department of a large company in Delhi.
The Holi Festival: pure commercialism, or a great occasion?
Could you imagine going to Germany’s ‘Holi Festival of Colours’?
Aadishree Jamkhedkar: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s too commercialised. It’s clearly just about having a party and a good time, like lots of other events. And I think that misses the real nature of the celebration.
Puneet Nangia: Definitely! It’s a great opportunity for all Indians living away from home, because otherwise, they always miss out on festivals. And many things are becoming more commercialised in India, too. I think it was initially a bit of a surprise, but I’ve got used to the idea now.
What do you think of how Germany celebrates Holi?
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