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Holi: The sweet and colourful taste of spring


Each spring, Asian households eagerly prepare for the most colourful Hindu festival of the year - Holi. Even the food that is eaten during the festivities tastes of spring, writes Kalpna Woolf.

Just as Christians feast at Easter, Hindus feast at Holi, getting ready to celebrate as a family, and dedicating entire days to cooking.

Holi heralds the beginning of spring and historically there is a religious story of good defeating evil underpinning the celebration.

Holi foods to try:

Sweet saffron rice

Sweet fragrant rice with saffron

Gujiya pastries with nuts, dates and coconut

Kachori parcels with spicy lentils

One legend has it, that a king sent the witch called Holika, to kill his son. After several attempts she finally tried to burn him in a pyre, however, evil Holika's immunity to fire was reversed by the Gods and she perished instead of the king's son.

To mark this victory, bonfires are burned on the night before the festival every year and for many people it is the time to indulge in fun, feasting and joy, shaking off the dark, grey winter months.

In India Holi is a national celebration where children and adults play games in the streets, throwing beautiful vibrant coloured powder at each other.

Powders of shocking pink, peacock blues, blazing orange and lush purples are mixed with water and squirted through water pistols or thrown dry and the celebration is gaining momentum in the UK every year.

Revellers celebrating Holi In India people throw vibrant coloured powder in the street

Families exchange sticky sweets, while traditional and special dishes are given the Holi treatment by introducing fresh flavours and colours to give vibrancy.

It is perhaps the only Hindu and Sikh celebration where people drink openly, toasting the freedom of spring. In fact, the favourite drink is lassi (a soft yogurt drink normally drunk sweetened with sugar or flavoured with salt), often liberally laced with intoxicants.

Holi is about having lots of fun. The combination of games and sweet foods brings back wonderful, heady memories.

A festival of fun

Indian sweets for Holi
  • Holi was originally a spring festival of fertility and harvest
  • Now it also marks some Hindu legends, which provide some of the ingredients for the celebrations
  • Holi is an ancient festival which is referred to in the 7th Century Sanskrit drama, Ratnaval
  • Holi also celebrates Krishna, and the legend of Holika and Prahalad
  • Although Holi has religious roots there are few religious things to do
  • Distinctions of caste, class, age, and gender are suspended during Holi
  • A very exuberant festival, with dancing, singing, and throwing of paint
  • Bonfires are lit during Holi, and food offerings are roasted

Holi: A festival of colours

As children, we would ensure our day was filled with playing pranks on family and friends, chasing each other to see if we could smear colours on each other's faces and stuffing ourselves with as many sweets as possible.

I remember taking gujiyas - pastries filled with a delicate mixture of shredded coconut, dates, sultanas and nuts - to school as a child. As these are shaped like small Cornish pasties, my English friends enjoyed the surprise of the sweet, sticky centre.

Multi-coloured super-rich Indian sweets made of milk, sugar, condensed milk and sometimes chocolate are given as gifts.

However, my favourite Holi food has to be kachoris - round, puffed pastry filled with lentils and fragrant spices.

These are delightful, light and crispy snacks, and we would hang around the kitchen, eagerly waiting for these to be drained from a hot karahi of oil and bite into them, almost burning our mouths in the process.

At every happy occasion, it is customary in my culture to make sweet rice.

Savoury rice is an Indian staple, but rice coloured with saffron to give it a caramelised golden glow, sweetened and garnished with nuts, sultanas, and cardamom is made on happy occasions such as weddings and feasts, so for me, this evokes the extravagance of Holi.

Holi dishes vary from family to family. In our family we make sweet and savoury snacks and also colourful main dishes of meat and vegetables, so that the feasting can be shared by friends and family who are always dropping by.

And perhaps, when they try these foods, they may feel like spring is finally here.

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