India is a land famed for having and celebrating the most unique festivals in the world. And perhaps one of our most vibrant and unique festivals is Holi, which people across India revel in and people across the world come to see and shoot. But even the most avid Holi fan might not have imagined playing the Lathmaar Holi. And what better place to experience this festival than the land where it was born?
For this unique celebration, musafirs must travel to Mathura in Uttar Paradesh and visit Braj Bhoomi, the land of Lord Krishna. While the rest of India associates Holi primarily with the victory of good over evil, the residents of Barsana and Nadgoan villages associate it with the immortal bond between Lord Krishna and his consort Radha and as a festival that marks the onset of spring, the season of love. Legend has it that Lord Krishna was jealous of Radha’s fair complexion. So along with his shepherd friends (known as gops) from Nandgoan village, he used to sneak into the neighbouring village of Barsana to smear the cheeks of his beloved with gulaal (coloured powder). Radha and her shepherdess friends (known as gopis) would chase them away with sticks (laths). Countless generations later, this touching tale of love is immortalised and re-enacted out by the locals as the Lathmaar Holi, a version of this festival unique to the area.
Today, the gops of Nandgoan raid Barsana to play Holi and to try to ascend the temple of Radha and unfurl their flag over it, thus marking their visit as victorious. The gopis, armed with their laths, stand determined to beat back the gops who are armed only with colour and water. The men come bearing shields, to help take the blows raining down on them. And woe betides the man unlucky enough to be caught by the women – he is dragged away, dressed up as a woman, and made to dance as repentance, as legend says Lord Krishna was made to do too. But don’t worry, the general mood here is of playful banter and wholesome celebration, recreating the bonhomie between the gop and his gopi. The air is alive with the smells of incense and sandalwood and the atmosphere is made harmonious by the traditional songs and rhymes that the men sing to tease the women. Along with the teasing and the playing, the participants also indulge in bhaang, an intoxicating drink that makes the celebrations even headier. These celebrations begin a week or more before Holi and the locals all get together as one in both preparing and participating, creating a unique bond over such a boisterous event.
Holi is awaited and celebrated with gusto across India. But nowhere is it celebrated with the unique mix of tradition and revelry as the Lathmaar Holi is in Braj Bhoomi. Ready to go ghoomne this Holi?
Author : Manan Dhuldhoya