The influx of pilgrims, both foreign and Indian, to the Hindu holy town of Vrindavan to enjoy the famous Braj ki Holi - festival of colours in Lord Krishna’s land - has added sparkle to the celebrations already underway. Celebrations began a week ago in Barsana, Nandgaon, Goverdhan, Vrindavan and Mathura, with folk songs, music and dance soirees. The festival falls on Saturday, but in the so-called Braj area, Holi starts from ‘ekadashi’, the first day after the new moon. For several days now, Krishna and Radha devotees from all over can be seen lost in a trance, forgetful of their dresses, torn or disfigured with splashes of colours, sitting or relaxing on the holy sands of Braj, where Hinduism’s most popular and colourful god is believed to have played with his fellow cowherds.
People are flocking to the suburban town of Barsana near Mathura to see Lath Mar Holi, a special form of traditional festivity. Folklore says Lord Krishna’s favourite consort Radha spent her childhood in Barsana.
“My family and I had never seen a spectacle like this one when thousands of men and women from Barsana and Nand Gaon fought, danced, sang and threw colours at each other to the sounds of famous Holi geets. The Holi songs of Braj mandal are sung in pure Braj Bhasha (the classical language of the land),” Ratnakar, who has come from Mumbai, told IANS.
In the sprawling compound of the Sriji temple in Barsana, thousands gathered to witness the Lath Mar holi when women beat up men with sticks as those on the sidelines became hysterical, sang and shouted Sri Radhey or Sri Krishna.
“The air was thick with the scent of flowers and perfume. Rose petals and coloured powder rained on the pilgrims as they visited the deity sitting on his throne of flowers,” Ratnakar said.
The women of Barsana start preparing a month in advance. “The mother-in-laws feed their daughters-in-law rich food so that they show off their prowess on the Holi battle zone. It is a show of love, fun and equality, one that even the gods descend to witness,” said Mohan, a priest in Barsana.
Interestingly, the town of Baldev, 20 km from Mathura, will be the main theatre of action for two days after Holi in the other centres of Braj Mandal.
Sri Krishna’s elder brother Baldev or Dauji is the presiding deity of this town. Holi played here has a distinct flavour and is called “Hurang” or “Hurdang”.
The Hurang is a carnival of music, rasia competitions, folk dances, and of course plentiful colours from pichkaris or mini water cannons. From dawn to dusk, thousands join in.
During intervals, participants sip “thandai”, a cooling drink that is sometime intoxicating because it is laced with a paste called bhang, made of cannabis.
“Bhang and Holi go together. After drinking bhang, people react in different ways, some crave for sweets, others cry or laugh. It is an ecstatic experience, which is heightened by the revelry,” explains a panda of Dauji (Baldev).
The main temple has huge tanks for preparing colours from ‘tesoo’ flowers.
For the musical programmes there are centuries-old instruments like mridangs and manjiras. Starting from the Dauji ka mandir (Dauji shrine), the hurang soon spills over to the narrow lanes and whoever comes in the way is soaked in colours.
“It is a great way to de-stress and bond,” adds Ravi Shankar, a pandit of Gokul Dham.
This year markets in Vrindavan, Mathura and Goverdhan are flooded with CDs and audio casettes of Holi songs. Some are parodies of film songs while others border on the obscene in the local language.
A shopkeeper outside the Sri krishna Janam Bhoomi temple in Mathura said, “Almost everyone who comes here returns with a DVD or cassette. The Braj Rasia’s and sankirtans are in great demand.”
“Music being an integral part of the holi celebrations, the CDs and cassettes have a regular market in all the religious centres in Braj,” says Jitendra Raghvanshi, a theatre personality of Agra.