One who has not seen the Holi of Braj has not seen India

Justice Markandey Katju
Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju

This article has been written considering that the great colour festival of Holi is approaching in India ( it will be celebrated on 29th March this year ). It signifies the triumph of good over evil, and is connected with the Hindu god Lord Krishna. It also signifies the coming of spring.

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Brajmandal is the area in the state of UP comprising of Mathura city and several places around it e.g. Vrindavan, Gokul, Govardhan, Barsana, Nandgaon, etc.

During a week at Holi time this whole area is plunged in revelry and celebration, and it is said that one who has not seen the Holi of Braj has not seen India.

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Some people call it the craziest festival in the world

The week commences with ‘lathmaar’ Holi of Barsana, a village town about 50 kms from Mathura, and ends a week later at the temple of Dauji ( Balaram, the elder brother of Lord Krishna ), about 18 kms from Mathura city, at an event known as Dauji ka Huranga.

Barsana has a temple of Radha ( whom Lord Krishna loved ) on a small hillock, and anytime one goes there one will find women of all ages, from 5 year old girls to 80 year old grandmothers, dancing there. The people of Barsana greet each other ‘ Radhe Radhe ‘, instead of the traditional ‘ Jai Shri Krishna ‘ elsewhere . This is because they believe that Lord Krishna had abandoned them after his battle with Jarasandh and gone away forever to Dwarka ( a city in Gujarat ) whereas Radha had remained with them.

Lathmaar Holi, as the name signifies, is played when the young men of Nandgaon walk the 9 kms to Barsana, and are there beaten with lathis ( sticks ) by the womenfolk of Barsana. This signifies the anger of the womenfolk of Barsana whose beloved Radha had been abandoned by Lord Krishna ( who had lived for some time in in his childhood in Nandgaon ) by going away to Dwarka. I have seen lathmaar Holi many times. The womenfolk of Barsana hit the young men who have come from Nandgaon hard on the head with sticks, and the latter have to wear protective headgear to avoid serious injury.

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Thereafter follows the week long Holi celebration all over Brajmandal. Colour is around everywhere, and in many places skits and plays are performed, depicting scenes from the life of Lord Krishna, particularly his ‘Raas-Leela’.

Many people perform the ‘parikrama’ ( circumlocution ) of Goverdhan, the mountain Lord Krishna is said to have lifted to protect his ‘sakhas’ ( boyhood friends ) from the anger of Indra, the rain god. The parikrama is of 22 kms, and is in the form of a figure 8, the bigger loop of 13 kms, and the smaller one of 9 kms.

Gokul is a place across the Jamuna river from Mathura, and it is believed to be the place where Lord Krishna, when an infant, was taken by his father Vasudev to save him from his maternal uncle Kansa who intended to kill him. Near Gokul is the ‘Mazhaar’ of the great Hindi poet Raskhan, who though a Muslim, was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna.

Vrindavan is where Lord Krishna spent most of his childhood, and where most of his gopis lived. It is 11 kms from Mathura city. The famous Banke Bihari temple is situated there, as also the Rangji temple, which is perhaps the only temple in North India built on the model of South Indian temples ( perhaps the Srirangam temple in Trichy ), with all its priests being Tamilians.

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The conclusion of the week long Holi celebrations is Dauji ka Huranga, which I have witnessed. This festival is held in a huge square shaped courtyard surrounded by buildings. The whole courtyard is inundated with coloured water, and the womenfolk tear the upper garments of the menfolk there, dip them in the coloured water, and then beat them with the torn clothes. Apparently this is to get back for the maltreatment by the menfolk for the other 364 days of the year !

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I may conclude by this nazm( poem ) on Holi by the great Urdu poet Nazir Akbarabadi ( 1735-1830 ), sung so beautifully that it captures the entire ambience of the Holi festival.

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