Holi Bhang!

I hear that today is the beginning of Holi,  the spring festival of colours in countries like India, Nepal, Srilanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The highlight of the festival is a great riot of face painting and throwing of coloured powder and coloured water at each other and everything in sight.

 Holi is also about bonfires, eating lots of good stuff and about the consumption of bhang (cannabis) in milkshakes and other bhang-laden sweets.

Linda recently spent some time in India and, as usual, had some lovely photos to post. Even when they’re not celebrating Holi, I couldn’t help noticing the brilliant colours with which the people of India surround themselves. Here’s one of the stunning photos from Linda’s blog.

I love Linda’s photos. She always manages to capture an image or a detail that evokes a whole range of emotions, thoughts and ideas and/or somehow magically tells an entire story.

So, this series of photos from India got me thinking about all the other nations and cultures in which colour features so much more prominently than it does in ours. And I’ve come to the conclusion that people in warm climates are much more colour-oriented than we are. Think of the traditional and even every-day dress of people in Africa or the Caribbean or South America. For instance, market day in South Africa:

Now compare this to market day in New York:

Think even of the colourful homes in Florida or Hawaii or other warmer states compared to the brick or white aluminum sided homes up north.


You’d think those of us who live in a cold, drab climate would want to surround ourselves with as much light and colour as possible whereas people in warm climates are already surrounded by flowers and blue skies and bright yellow sunshine all the time.

The only exception I can think of to this phenomena is Newfoundland where they paint everything every colour of the rainbow:

Compare this photo of downtown St. John’s Newfoundland to a shot of downtown Ottawa:

And that’s on a bright, sunny day! Yawn.

Why would Newfoundland be the exception to the colour- climate relationship? Here’s a province where the hottest summer day might reach 20 degrees Celsius (70 F) and the coldest winter day can plunge to minus 50 (in any measure). It’s the windiest province in the country and is shrouded in fog a good part of the year. And it gets some terrific snowfalls.

This is a highway.

Anybody have any theories about this colour-climate relationship and/or why there are exceptions like Newfoundland? Maybe there isn’t even a relationship and I’ve just had one too many bhang milkshakes?

Happy Holi!


33 responses to “Holi Bhang!

  1. I’m with you on color. I just did a rant post on my soap opera blog about everyone suddenly wearing brown. Blech! My guess on the Newfoundlanders is that they are just clever. I’m sure the bright colors make it easier to live there. A lot of quaint little fishing villages all over the world have brightly colored houses, but that’s probably so they can pick out their house as they are coming into port. Color is good.

  2. i love the colour. my house has a lot of colour in it too – makes me feel happy. maybe i’d like coming to work more if the building was painted aqua blue instead of brown.

  3. when i first arrived in india, taking the train from mumbai to wear i was going to be living, i watched as people emerged from their carboard and metal shacks along the railway live. what i remaked the most was that even though these people lived in such squalor, they had such incredible colour. the women would come out to dump their over night buckets and they would glow in the gorgeous colours of their saris. then i thought to myself, live might be rough, but look at the wonderful colour they have in their lives. after living there for 8 months, i did notice that colour was such a huge part of everything they do. i believe its because makes life seem a little brighter in hard times.

    happy holi!

  4. Iceland, Norway, Greenland all have the same bright colours. My theory has always been that when you are coming home from sea, the colour helps you see your house/town against the grey backdrop.

  5. It would be interesting to know how old India’s obsession with bright colors is. Because this is a relatively recent phenomenon.

    A few hundred years ago, bright dyes were worth more than their weight in gold, available only to the extremely rich or royalty. On top of that, there weren’t too many colors available.

    It wasn’t until the 1800’s that synthetic dyes were first produced, and made available to the average person.

  6. Linda – You’re quite welcome. I hope everyone goes and looks at your photos!

    Dr. Monkey – I don’t think anyone has ever called me “toots” before.

    Geewits – Good point. You probably couldn’t find your house in Newfoundland in the fog if it wasn’t brightly coloured.

    Meanie – My place is painted neutral. I’d like to have more colour, but I’m afraid of picking something horrible.

    Smothermother – That’s a good theory. But there are plenty of people living in rough conditions here too, but they have to live in drab clothes and drab homes as well. How long were you in India?

    Chris – But what about people in Africa and India and South America that don’t live anywhere near the sea?? I didn’t know Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia were colourful.

    Friar – Ah! You don’t think they would have coloured their clothing and stuff with natural dyes? I understand this Holi festival is quite old and uses flowers as the base for the paints. Something to research.

    Meagan – Cool. I wonder what prompts one culture to go all colourful and other cultures to go all drab??

  7. @XUP

    I’m looking at that first photo with the flaming fluourescent blues and magentas….

    Nope. Those wouldn’t be natural dyes. That’s definitely chemical.

  8. We discussed this in art school and it has to do with the quality of light you have geographically (the way the sun slants ?), and coastal people ALWAYS paint things brightly no matter where they are – it’s like daytime lighthouses that still show through the fog. The difference is in coastal regions people still dress in a way that reflects their relationship with the light, unless it’s their seafaring clothes – yellow slickers for instance.

  9. There’s a VW bug that parks just down the street from our house. It’s bright yellow with daisies printed on the side.

    In the winter I always look at it and think it is the saddest thing I have ever seen. In fact, many times I’ve wanted to take a photo to discuss it on the blog. The problem is that it’s so obviously a summer car – so full of sunshine and light – that when it is surrounded by grey, slushy, dirty snow, it just seems awful. It’s like winter killed summer – a constant reminder of what we do not have.

    I always get depressed when we drive by.

    So I’m thinking that a nice yellow or pink or pale blue house would only make the winter blahs even worse. It’s best to embrace the cold and feel like part of it…so you feel like your home, your self, your things all fit with your country.

  10. And yes you can get BRILLIANT colours from natural dyestuff. It depends on your mordant (the metal you mix them with) they tend to fade faster than chemical dyestuff and here in the west we use the natural dyes for food colouring because they aren’t as lightfast as we demand. But if you want to learn about them (play with them!!) dharmatrading.com has a great informative site.

  11. Is there a relationship between the spiciness of a culture’s food and the extent to which they incorporate bright colours into their surroundings?
    Think about it – India, Mexico, Malaysia, Jamaica – all countries with really spicy food AND lots of colour!

    And Newfoundland and Labrador really isn’t that colourful once you move back from the sea a bit. The houses et al by the sea are painted with the same paint as their boats – and it is salt-resistant.

    Lunenburg, NS is much the same, if I recall.

    OK – now that I answered your question, what do I win?

  12. I am still trying to work out whether we all see the same colors, like is my blue the same as your blue…maybe your blue is my red…I was happened upon this concept while eating a hash brownie and it has not left me yet…the concept…the hash brownie I am pretty sure is long gone. I miss that Brownie.

  13. Friar – Okay, I’ll take your word for it since your an artist type.

    Mudmama – Hmm. So we inlanders don’t even SEE colours brightly? I did always wonder about the yellow raincoats in NS. No one inland would be caught dead in one and yet everyone on the coast has one.

    Trashy – It wasn’t a contest, sorry. Just a question that puzzled me. No contest. No winner. No prizes

    Loth – Wow, that was lovely. Just like Newfoundland really. How interesting.

    Cedar- I would say yes. But when played backwards it’s more of a Gregorian Chant than what is commonly referred to as hibiscus.

  14. I’m a bland and neutral colour person myself – mainly because I get tired of a colour sooner than a neutral. Most of the inside of my house is painted a soft grey that picks up the ambient colour outside – it goes a soft green in summer, blue in winter snow. The younger generation, on the other hand, embraces royal blue and red ochre kitchens, a bright yellow bedroom and multi-coloured patchwork rugs. I love the Newfie rainbow, to visit, though. And I do agree with you on boring Ottawa – they do put up coloured flags, though, from time to time.

  15. I love color—our neighbors? Not so much apparently. We live on a street dotted with brown, tan and various shades of taupe houses, so I decided to paint ours yellow. Not an obnoxious yellow, but a very pretty, light lemon color. Personally, I think it brightens up the ‘hood. And if nothing else, when I give directions I can just say, “It’s the yellow house.”

  16. Hmmm… I had never thought about it! (and how do you get all these ideas?!) But it is true that warmer climates seem to be more colourful than colder. I like wearing black and my house is painted in earthy colours. Just feels comfy to me. Sort of soothing I guess. If I lived where I could have those milkshakes everyday though, I might get to like some more funky shades.

  17. I love colour but the outside of our house is boring brown and cream. (zzzzz) We have new neighbours the next street over that moved in last summer and promptly painted the garage a vibrant purple. Oh the talk about that! Now I’m thinking of painting our front door red….I hear it is good luck. Happy Holi!

  18. Mary – That’s a good point about getting tired of a colour. I would too. Maybe that’s why my place is all neutral – then I brighten it up with random stuff I find. Also, of course we don’t want our walls to outshine our own dazzling personalities now do we?

    Mo – It’s nice that some places still paint their houses. Here, houses are all aluminium or vinyl siding or some sort of brick or brick veneer. On the east coast homes are still made of wood and people get very creative with the colours of their houses.

    Glen – Yes, I can understand that.

    Julie – Yes, perhaps the colour thing has less to do with the warm climate and more to do with the bhang?? But why would you need to paint things all those fabulous colours if you’re already seeing them hallucinogenically?

    Laura – I love red front doors. It IS supposed to welcome only good fortune into your home. Go for it!

  19. Is it possible that the colour in St. John’s is to improve the otherwise dreary coastal weather? Much like how Vancouver is a city of glass — bringing in, reflecting, refracting, however much light it can when it’s available?

    As far as I’m concerned, every city could use more colour (ala Heaven’s To Betsy on Wellington) or more windows. We can never have to many windows.

  20. Kim – I’m not a big fan of a lot of glass in a city. It seems like a bit of an architectural cheat to just reflect and refract — you also have to add something original, don’t you think? We could definitely use more colour though.

  21. i completely dig the colors of these places, it’s inspiring. india seems like a very cool place and i’m fairly certain i should visit.

  22. Hi,

    Growing up I was always told that the reason Newfoundlanders paint their houses bright colours is because they use the paint left over from painting their boats. Nowadays I guess it’s more of a novelty though, something the province is known for.

  23. I theorize that NFLDers paint their houses so bright because of the fog. It’s predominantly in the coastal neighbourhoods where you’ll find those bright colours. My dad grew up in bishop’s falls and I spent a lot of summers there growing up on family trips. Bishop’s is a central town, not on the coast at all and no bright colours.
    As for NSioners and their yellow rain slickers. I grew up in NS and again, it’s because of fog. You can see these bright colours. If you don’t wear something bright be prepared to get soaked when a car hits the puddle full speed next to you.

  24. I found this when I was looking for more info about Newfoundland and paint. I am reading Farley Mowat’s “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float”, and there was a paint shortage because of troubles of simply getting there in less modern times, and as a result, when people COULD get paint, they went a little wild.

  25. Just came across this article. I’m from St. John’s, and I do appreciate the shout out, but in reference to:

    “Why would Newfoundland be the exception to the colour- climate relationship? Here’s a province where the hottest summer day might reach 20 degrees Celsius (70 F) and the coldest winter day can plunge to minus 50 (in any measure). It’s the windiest province in the country and is shrouded in fog a good part of the year. And it gets some terrific snowfalls.”

    The temperatures of St. John’s are very mild. You’re right, it doesn’t usually go much above 20-25 degrees, but it usually doesn’t go below -10 degrees either! In some parts of Labrador, it can go below -50 on occasion, but it doesn’t get anywhere near that cold anywhere in Newfoundland because we’re surrounded by water and almost all of the communities are coastal. It certainly doesn’t get very cold in St. John’s, which is the city that is known for its colourful houses and downtown core. So yes, some parts of the Labrador, which is not on the island (and a very different place), can get pretty chilly, but St. John’s does not get very cold.