Painting the town red (and purple and yellow) at the Hamilton Peace Festival

Participants hurled dyed powder in a evening at Gage Park inspired by the Indian Holi festival.
Jordan Hicks shows off what's left of his ammunition. (Paige Ellis/Special)

Pop icon Prince would have been proud of Hamilton this weekend. People didn’t just make purple rain; they made it rain every colour of the rainbow in Gage Park.

At Saturday’s Midsummer Night’s Dream Colour Festival, participants playfully hurled dyed powder at each other, all in the name of peace and fun. Inspired by the Indian Holi festival — a beloved springtime celebration steeped in Hindu legend  —the event was a first for Hamilton.

Event organizer Mark Gowland says by the final toss, Gage Park was bursting at the seams with 1,500 revelers. It was good news for the local Neighbour 2 Neighbour food bank, who collected donations at the event.

So what do you need to know about this kaleidoscopic festival? Read on for details.

Fact #1: With great powder comes great responsibility

The powder was made of 99 per cent cornstarch, a half per cent dye and another half per cent perfume. According to Gowland, the powder is the same kind used in parts of India.

And since it’s primarily made of kitchen ingredients, he says it’s not harmful to the environment. The plastic packets that held the powder were dutifully picked up and thrown out after each toss.

Strictly speaking, not every shade was featured at the festival. For one young boy, this was terrible news. Jordan Hicks, 7, said he was looking forward to tossing around his all-time favourite colour: blue.

But Gowland pointed out there was good reason not to include blue on the menu of colours. "It wasn’t for throwing," he said. "[The blue dye] is clumpy, so it wouldn’t disperse." Hicks, sadly, had to settle for less-awesome green.

Fact #2: The festival was a launderer’s nightmare

The dye wasn’t permanent (phew!), but it did require a coarse loofah and a couple showers to completely wash off. All those participants who thought it would look funny to massage the darker coloured powder into their hair may be experiencing some day-after regrets.

For others, it’s a wish come true. "I hope the dye stays," said Alex Tlalka, 14. "Maybe for the start of school." A cheap dye job if there ever was one.

As for Tlalka and her friends’ white shirts, they have likely been retired; there’s not enough bleach in the world to save them.

Fact #3: Human tie-dyes

There were no rules at this colour festival, but after the first few throws, there did evolve a kind of routine. Allyssa Beaurivage explains that after the countdown, "The first thing people do is throw [the powder] up, and then they start throwing it at people. You don’t even need a package," she explains. "If you’re in there, you get covered."

Fact #4: Surviving a colour festival without becoming asthmatic

Wearing a face mask may sound like a cheat, but with the thick fog of colour hanging over Gage Park, it was a must for some participants.

"When you’re in there, the powder is thrown in your mouth and you can’t even breathe," said Hamilton resident Meghan Weber. "At one point we were all spitting colours."

So some of her friends decided the only way to survive the next nine throws was to spring for a mask, sold by the on-site Reiki Master, Amber Colbear, who admits her last colour celebration left her "sneezing hot pink."

Fact #5: Holi mackerel, what a day!

How did Hamilton’s colour festival compare to the real deal? Maryam Tanjua has been to Holi festivals in India and Dubai, and says the Gage Park celebration was a surprisingly similar.

There was one notable difference, however. "They’re using only colours [here]. We used to use a lot of water. We had these water guns with a pump."

Nonetheless, it was a taste of home for one of Tanjua’s friends (hopefully not literally). "This is one thing I’ve been missing a lot," said Mandeep Singh. "It’s been eight years since I really enjoyed Holi."

Head over to the CBC Hamilton Facebook page to check out a very colourful photogallery here.