India celebrates the festival of colours

From soldiers in the north to teenagers in the south, Indians of all hues threw water-filled balloons and smeared coloured powder on each other to celebrate the festival of Holi on Wednesday.

The revelry began in the early hours with children engaging in water fights, using plastic guns and balloons to splash each other and any unsuspecting person in sight from the rooftops of homes in the Indian capital Delhi.

Soldiers in the disputed state of Kashmir as well along the Wagah border between India and Pakistan rubbed brightly-coloured powder on each other's faces and danced to Bollywood songs heralding the "festival of colours".

In Mumbai, home to the Hindi film industry, usually riotous celebrations appeared to have been muted, perhaps in response to a call by leading actors to conserve water as millions of Indians face their worst drought in decades.

Although the festival is usually celebrated with wild "rain dances" and the throwing of buckets of water, the drought in central parts of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, led many to push for a "dry" Holi.

The call for austerity did not reach Delhi, where one jewellery store offered a gold water pistol on sale for the princely sum of 8 million rupees ($147,000), according to a report in the Hindustan Times newspaper.

The store, P.P. Jewellers also sells silver water pistols for 50,000 rupees ($920) which "are a hot-selling gift item this Holi", shop owner Rahul Gupta told the newspaper.

Holi, a public holiday, marks the arrival of spring and is especially popular in northern India and other parts of the world with large Hindu communities.

amu/co/jah