How is Holi celebrated in the holiest of places?
Holi, the festival of Colours is celebrated all over India, rather all over the World. But there are certain places that have adopted this festival as their own and pour their hearts and sweat into the celebrations. Holi is celebrated in 2 ways in India. One as the festival that marks the beginning of spring and other in celebration of Vishnu slaying the demon Holika. It is also said to be the favourite festival of Lord Krishna and therefore wherever he has left his mark, Holi is a little extra special.
Krishna is associated with the Brij bhoomi, the land over which he ruled. The places of Mathura, Barsana, Falen and Vrindavan are especially important with regard to Krishna as one was where he was born and the other was where he was raised.
Before we go into how they celebrate it there, let us look at why they celebrate Holi and how the customs came to be.
Krishna’s favourite festival
We all know from the stories that Krishna was dark complexioned. His skin tone was likened to that of the clouds in a storm cast sky. As a young child when he saw that all other children and adults around him had lighter skin than him. The innocent child that he was, went up to Yashodha and asked why this was so. He was particularly jealous that the girl he adored Radha was fair complexioned. Yashodha suggested that he apply what colour he wanted on Radha’s face and then he wouldn’t feel different about it. She told this to playfully appease him. Never did she think that he would do just that. Krishna grabbed all the colour powders he could find and smeared them on Radha’s face. He also ended up chasing the other Gopikas and played with them by splashing colour on them with a water spray called Pichkari. This resulted in a riot of colours that had all the adults and children of Vrindavan participating in joyous enthusiasm. This is also a secular celebration that casts aside any form of social hierarchy based on colour and strengthens the bonds of society in its multi coloured disposition.
Mathura has been long acknowledged as the birthplace of Lord Krishna, it is one of the Sapta Puris, the holiest of places for Hindus. It is the most ideal place to go to if you are looking for the authentic Holi experience. You will be dazzled and made dizzy from the vibrant colours, flowers, decorations and overwhelmed by the sweets and savouries. The streets are crowded with people chasing each other with Pichkaris and handfuls of colour powder. Unlike the rest of India which celebrates Holi in 2 days as Holi ka Dahan and Holi, Mathura celebrates Holi for an entire month. It generally begins in early February and goes on till the spectacular Holi celebrations in early March. The day of Holi itself is the day after the full moon in March. You will be surprised by how many celebrity figures and prominent names in the Country visit Mathura for the Holi festivities.
The village of Falen about 40 kilometres from Mathura. Local legend states that this is the site of the demoness Holika’s interlude with Prahlad. Prahlad was the son of the demon Hiranyakashipu, but was an ardent devotee of Vishnu. His father was enraged at this and no amount of conversation or arguments could convince Prahlad otherwise. Hiranyakashipu finally ordered his sister, the demoness Holika to kill his son. She held Prahlad on her lap and entered a blazing pyre. She thought that being stronger she would be immune to the effects of the fire. But the true devotion of Prahlad pleased Vishnu so much that he saved the boy and holika was burnt in the fire instead. This incident is said to have taken place in Falen in Barsana. Even today the village priests replicate the event. They train from an early age with meditation, and endurance training, along with daily worship of Vishnu and Krishna. They then light a pyre on the day of Holi and walk through it. Amazingly the priests remain unscathed by the fire. This ritual is accompanied by the common folk playing with colours.
While the other places still celebrate Holi the conventional way with colours, the Barsane ki Holi is entirely different. It is called the Lath Mar Holi. The locals tell the tale of how Krishna used to come to Barsana and tease the Gopikas there. The women would playfully chase him away. Likewise even today, the young men from Nandgaon and Vrindavan sneak into Barsana and tease the women and girls. They carry shields with them. The women are armed with Lathis. They chase the men away and beat them with the Lathis. The next day the men of Barsana sneak into Nandgaon and repeat the whole process.The men try to protect themselves as best as they can with the shields. The Lath Mar Holi is celebrated a week before the actual Holi.
Krishna is worshipped as Banke Bihari in the temple of Vrindavan. This is the place that he spent most of his formative years in the home of Nanda and Yashodha, his adoptive parents. The Banke Bihari temple is one of the oldest and famous temples in the world. It is of significance even without the Holi festival, but on Holi the crowds and festivities are literally mind blowing. The celebrations begin at the hour marked by the Range bharni Ekadashi. Priests mix coloured water and powdered colours made from the Kesuda flower as a form of blessings to the people. In a unique way the idol of Krishna is placed behind a curtain and cannot be viewed by the public. This is because the Krishna idol is said to go along with whoever stares at it or clicks a picture of it. This had apparently happened few decades ago when a princess from Gujarat gazed upon the idol. The idol mysteriously ended up in Gujarat and they had to make another idol for the Banke Bihari temple.
Each Holi celebration is distinct and unique and you can experience it all by going to Mathura. All the other places are accessible from Mathura with a short journey. Be prepared to be drenched in colours and feast upon the delectable local goodies. If you have been there during Holi, we would love to know about your experiences in the comments section.