The Holi Festival of colours is a spectacular celebration that has its roots in Hinduism, one of the oldest and biggest religions in the world. The festival is born in India, and that's where it is most celebrated, although any country with a significant Hindu population will inevitably have some celebration.
The Holi is known as the festival of colours because those celebrating will throw coloured powders in the air and at each other, completely covering themselves in the brightly coloured dyes. Those participating will throw buckets of coloured water at each other, and even fill up water guns with it, painting passing motorists and pedestrians in vibrants reds, greens, and yellows. The festival has religious roots, and devotees will often go to their local temples, but this is far away from the usual somber service complete mournful music and a stern lecture; worshipers cover themselves and others in powder as they wrestle on the ground and generally behave like happy five year olds.
The festival is an incredibly old celebration, with its first recorded instance sometime in the 7th C. Its a celebration of the victory of the virtuous Prahlada against Holika, the sister of the evil king, Hiranyakashipu. The story goes that the evil king was granted a wish in exchange for his years of penance and abnegation, and was granted immortality. The evil kind decided that he would wage a war against the gods, and wanted everyone else to worship him; his son, Prahlada, had other ideas, and was devoted to Lord Vishnu. As punishment, his father told him to sit on the lap Holika, sister of the kind and aunt of the boy. She had been granted immunity from fire, and lit a bonfire as to consume the boy, thinking she would be safe from the flames. Prahlada prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe, and the fire killed Holika instead, representing the victory of good over evil.
Holi Festival of Colours London
In London there are annual Holi celebrations, complete with coloured powders, and water. In 2013 they were celebrated at the Battersea Power Station with tickets going for £35 at the door. Check out our full wiki here.
The way the festival is celebrated, and even the exact days, varies from province to province. In Uttar Prandesh men sing gaudy songs while the women playfully "beat" them with sticks.
In Gujarat, pots of milk are hung outside of houses from poles, and the boys climb onto of each other trying to break the pot open, while the girls cover them in powder.
The powdered colours, and dyed water are a common practice everywhere that celebrates Holi. Bonfires are also a staple, celebrating Prahlada's victory over Holika. It is not unusual for people to consume bhang with their food, a mildly stimulating cannabis-based drink.