Barsana ki Holi, the Festival of Colours.


by Shishir Dhulla

Holi, the festival of colours is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Northern India. This festival assumes a very special status in the Braj region of Uttar Pradesh. Braj bhoomi encompasses the region of Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Nandgaon and Barsana, all of those having played an important role in Hindu mythology, where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Devotional songs, spiritual fervor and sprinkled colors present a delightful scene.

The most notable spots that attract the tourists for their unique ways of celebrating Holi are Barsana & Nandgaon. At Barsana, the 'latthmaar holi' is famous. The men of Nandgaon known as 'gops' raid Barsana and try to mark their victory over the temple of Radhika by furling flag over it while the women of Barsana try to fend them off with long bamboo sticks. The men are well padded because they cannot retaliate to the women and can only try to keep them off by sprinkling colors on them. In case they get trapped, they are dressed as a lady in a sari and cosmetics are applied and they are made to dance like a lady.

It is said that even Lord Krishna was made to dance like this by the gopis of Barsana. Next day, the same scene is repeated in Nandgaon as men of Barsana raid the village to win over temple of Shriji and women of Nandgaon beat them with sticks to keep them off. Holi songs known as 'Hori' are sung by the men and women and are mostly based on the dialogues exchanged between Krishna and Radhika.While the facilities at these villages are very basic and it may be inconvenient for most of us to spend a night there, this festival of Holi can be experienced in its most interesting form in these two villages.

I photographed this festival during a solo trip to Barsana on the 21st of March 2013 (Holi festival is a weeklong celebration in Braj Bhoomi, as compared to the Rang Panchmi that will be celebrated on the 27th of March elsewhere in the country). While the village itself lacks basic infrastructure, the experience was very overwhelming, where people from all across visit, stay and celebrate the festival together irrespective of their caste, religion and economic statuses. Even before I realized, I had completed a barefooted 8 kilometer Parikrama (circumambulation) of Barsana alongwith thousands of other people.

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