A Spring Celebration Of Love Moves To The Fall–And Turns Into A Fight

PUURS, BELGIUM, October 3, 2013 (Wall Street Journal): HPI Note: From what we see of these events on YouTube (e.g. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JlZx2oFFlU), they are a mix of rave and Holi traditions and have little to nothing to do with religion. Holi fell in March in 2013.

Teens and 20-somethings congregated in this Belgian hamlet on Aug. 31 to celebrate Holi, the Hindu holiday that welcomes spring–just as autumn approached Europe. They came to celebrate the victory of good over evil and douse each other with iridescent powders, just like in India. Organizers claim the rainbow hues erase social, religious and racial differences.

Holi–the Hindu festival that celebrates the arrival of spring–has spread from India to Europe, where the religious holiday has taken an even more colorful turn. Holi parties are springing up from England to South Africa, luring big-hearted partygoers. Touting an intoxicating blend of Woodstock and Bollywood, the gatherings can draw more than 10,000 people.

But all that amity and togetherness has sparked a fight between the leading commercial Holi festival organizers. While revelers cavort in colorful joy, their hosts are dickering over profits, festival names and even the ingredients of the powders they sell.

“It’s a sort of Holi war,” says Michael Hasemann, an event manager in Luebeck, Germany, who helps local organizers stage Holi festivals. “Everybody is trying to shaft everybody else to become the king of Holi.”

Just last year it was a happy Holi commune. At the time, five Berlin men staged the first commercial Holi festivals in Germany, inspired by images of the Indian original and annual celebrations of a Krishna temple in Spanish Fork, Utah. But a dispute over the business turned the Holi lovefest into a slugfest, and one of the men, Stephan Dau, teamed up with his brother to set up Holi One. Others, led by Mr. Derenko, established themselves as Holi Festival of Colours.

The festivals’ popularity has drawn in other professional event managers, such as Mr. Hasemann, who hold separate events, and entrepreneurs. Marcel Bodewig, for example, who usually sells support systems for call centers, realized there was a business opportunity in selling Holi powder, known as gulal.

Commercial Holi festivals, such as this one in the Belgian town of Puurs on Aug. 31, have swept Europe this summer, sparking fierce competition among festival organizers and complaints from the Hindu community. “They drink, they party, they do whatever,” Radj Bhondoe, chairman of the Hindu Council of the Netherlands, says of the attendants at a recent Holi in Amsterdam.

Mr. Bhondoe says he doesn’t buy the organizers’ claim that their events promote the spirit of unity that is central to the traditional holiday. “I’m afraid that’s not the real model of their business. Their business is business. It’s making money,” he says. As for holding Holi in summer or fall: “You’re not going to celebrate Christmas in July. It’s absurd.”

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal