The riot of colours that is Holi has proved irresistible to revellers worldwide, particularly in the Catalan city of Sabadell, 20km north of Barcelona, Spain. For the last seven years, Sabadell has been celebrating Holi around the same date that it is celebrated in India.
Centre Asana, the Catalan Association of Bollywood in Sabadell that is the cultural centre behind these events, claims to be the first Spanish organisation to celebrate Holi in Spain. “Holi in Sabadell started with 200 people, but a few years ago we had almost 10,000,” Sonia Esplugas Baez, who runs the centre, told National Geographic Traveller India in an email interview, “We always have problems finding somewhere big enough to fit them all.” The town doesn’t have a large Indian population, Baez said, but members from Indian communities in nearby cities like Barcelona, Olot and Llort de Mar stop by. A crowd this size might be easy to pull in Barcelona, but is quite a coup in a small town like Sabadell. The festival has shifted venues to keep up with the burgeoning demand.
Holi celebrations around the world—such as that of Holi One, which has hosted parties in about 14 Spanish cities alone—tend to be non-religious. But Centre Asana aims to promote Indian culture by holding its event as close to the Hindu celebration as possible, rustling up Indian music and food, and ensuring that everyone at the event knows the cultural origin of the festival. “We are extremely annoyed with organisations and private companies that celebrate Holi even in July or August only to make it a coloured rave with drunk youngsters listening to Western music,” Baez said.
A powerful magnet for partygoers is the dancing. Choreographed groups practice for a long time to perfect their synchronised bhangra moves. Most revellers were young, said Maria Colomer, a student studying in Sabadell, “throwing colour at strangers and meeting new people.” Like her Indian counterparts, Colomer had trouble getting cleaned up after. It took two showers and some make-up to camouflage the stubborn remnants, but that hasn’t dulled her experience. “I’m definitely going next year,” Colomer promised.
Centre Asana will celebrate Holi in Sabadell on Sun March 26, 2017. Details and updates here.
Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's digital team. Since then, her words have featured in The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Roads & Kingdoms, The Goya Journal, and Condé Nast Traveller India. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro and is on Instagram @fabiolamonteiro.