A colourful celebration of Holi at SOAS

Devotees Gather During a Holi Celebration © Sudipto Das

Holi is a Hindu festival, often described as the ‘festival of colours’.

In India and Nepal, the festival celebrates the start of spring and, in recent years it has been adopted by non-Hindus in Europe and North America.

Even Google have got in on the act this year with a special Holi graphic.


There are several different origins suggested for the colourful paint and also the bonfire, which are features of most Holi parties.  In Vishnu legend, Holi is a celebration of good over evil, inspired by Vishnu’s follower Prahlada’s victory over his evil aunt Holika.  Holika perished in a burning pyre, and the vibrant colours and bonfire commemorate this event.

Krishna legend celebrates Holi as a festival of love, the bright colours being inspired by the paint with which Krishna playfully daubs his beloved Radha’s face.

SOAS Celebrates Holi

SOAS students typically celebrate Holi with a big party in one of the Bloomsbury squares.  Rather more emphasis is placed on the fun and the frolics of the festival, and slightly less on chasing out evil on a big bonfire.  Powdered paints are liberally thrown around, so any participants, spectators––or any passing Liberal Democrat MPs!––are best advised to wear old clothes.

This year’s events include a colour run next to the SOAS main campus in central London.

Dr Ulrich Pagel

Dr Ulrich Pagel is Reader, Languages and Religions of Tibet and Central Asia at SOAS and convenor of the Hinduism: Foundation module on the BA Study of Religions.  He describes his early interest in Hinduism and the South Asia region:

“I first became interested in South Asia through my fascination for Tibet and Buddhism while preparing A-Levels in Germany.  I then spent a gap year travelling through India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal in order to find out more about the religions of India, including Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.  This exposure gave me valuable insight in the ways these traditions shaped Indian culture and complemented very effectively what I had read in books ahead of my travels.

“Hinduism: Foundation sets out to introduce the student to the diversity of Hindu practice and belief, from ancient times to the contemporary world.  It seeks to chart the factors that link the different traditions and explores some of the ideals that lend Hinduism such relevance in modern society, both in South Asia and beyond.”

Hinduism in London

“London boasts one of the largest Hindu communities in Britain.”

“Hindu religious practices and beliefs can be observed in many boroughs: in temples, on the streets and in domestic settings.  Without a doubt, it ranks among London’s most vibrant religious traditions.  In addition, London, through its cultural institutions and places of learning, offers unrivalled access to a vast array of sources that document the life and history of Hindu communities worldwide, including the British Museum and British Library.”

Suggested Reading

To discover more about Hinduism, the following books would make a good starting point:

Find out more



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