La Tomatina

“Who left the top off a ketchup bottle?” That’s pretty much the spectacle awaiting you at La Tomatina 2014, the festival which put the little village of Buñol on the map. This might just be the closest you’ll ever get to experiencing face-to-face combat. Oh, and it’s free too! The clock strikes 12. Rivers of red flow through the town. The town square is swathed in crimson fluid, as are the bodies of 40,000 participants. A shot is fired marking the end. It’s finished for another year. This is the Tomatina Festival for you, a tomato-throwing extravaganza which takes place on the last Wednesday of every August in the town of Buñol, near Valencia in Spain.

The credit for making the Tomatina Festival known & famous in India goes, hands down, to the movie ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’. The fun & frolic depicted in the song ‘’Ek junoon ek deewangi’’ and shorts-clad Katrina dancing on the beats of the song with the handsome hunk Hrithik Roshan is a sight you wouldn’t forget too soon.

No one is quite sure about how the festival started, but legend has it that a group of young locals were disgruntled by their lack of inclusion in a Gigantes y Cabezudos – ‘Giants and Big Heads’ – parade. (These slightly creepy paper-mache figures make appearances at many Spanish festivals and typically depict archetypes of the town.) Spotting a vegetable cart, the youngsters armed themselves with their chosen weapon and started lobbing tomatoes left, right, and centre.  The authorities intervened, but despite their best efforts, the tomato throwing escapades still continued to be celebrated.

Subsequent years saw the stop-start of the festival; Franco banning the festival for having “no religious significance”, the Mayor forbidding the festivities as a few suits got stained. A protest staged as a funeral for La Tomatina in 1957, (cue funeral marching band, giant tomato, inside a coffin…) actually led to it becoming an official event, finally accepted, with rules and regulations. A couple of these rules include:

- Tomatoes have to be squashed before being thrown. If you’ve ever had a tomato smack you in the face, you’ll know why.

- Only tomatoes to be thrown. If you’ve ever had anything else smack you in the face, you’ll know why.

The clock strikes 11am. The palo jabón (effectively a greasy pole with a ham at the top) challenges participants to climb it, and as soon as that ham is grabbed, the fight is on. A water-cannon signifies that the battle has begun. Trucks with over 150,000 tomatoes – grown especially for the event in Extremadura – enter with the ammunition and the chaos begins. One hour of squashing, pelting, and ducking ensues. Tomato guts explode onto the cobblestoned streets. A bloodbath of tomato sauce envelops tourists, locals and “official instigators” (most sought after job in Buñol, if there ever was one).

Clothes ripe with tomato puree, and the “saucy” look you were probably not going for? Not to worry. Fire trucks come around hosing down the street and locals appear with buckets of water to wash the crowds down. Still tomato tinged? Head down to the Buñol River, where the masses flock. Returning to the town, you’ll be amazed to see the streets sparkling as the tomato acid provides the top rated cleaning product in Buñol’s annual spring clean.

Two hours of tomato-throwing take their toll on participants and streets alike, and after everybody's washed and changed and Buñol streets have been hosed down, La Tomatina continues- with plenty of wine, lots of music and feasting- all of it in the still-tomato-smelling environs of Buñol. So if you're looking for a bit of good old street fighting, and that too with your favourite vegetable, come to Buñol for La Tomatina! In 2014 the La Tomatina festival will be celebrated on 27 August.

Team Veena World