While Holi is celebrated across India, the festival of colours remains special in Braj because this is the region where Lord Krishna spent his childhood replete with fun and frolic, naughty escapades, cherished friendships, and vanquishing demons.
Also known as Vraj, Brij or Brijbhumi, Braj refers to the region on both sides of the Yamuna river and includes Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Barsana and Nandgaon. These places are famous for their Holi revelry and are thronged by thousands of tourists eager to celebrate the festival of colours in style.
Sticks, sweets, flowers and colours
In Braj, Holi is not a two-day festival like in other parts of the country. It lasts several days and is played in different ways.
In Braj, Holi starts from Phalgun Shukla Ashtami (the eighth day of the waxing phase of the moon in the month of Phalgun) with Laddu Holi and ends with Huranga Holi (played with mud and water) two days after the full moon of Chaitra.
Laddu Holi: The first festival is the Laddu Holi celebrated in Barsana, which is said to be the native village of Radha. The Laddu Holi is a pre-Holi festivity. Devotees gather at the Radha Rani temple in Barsana, where prayers are offered and devotees sing and dance. They also throw laddus at each other and later consume them as prasad.
Lathmar Holi in Barsana: The next day, the Barsana women come out in full force for the Lathmar Holi. It is played in the Radha Rani temple which is beautifully decorated. People visit the temple since morning.
Also See: In pictures: From Sindhi gheeyar to kanji vada & bhabhra, traditional Holi food as colourful as the festival
Songs and the beat of dhols add to the festive spirit.
In the afternoon, women bearing sticks arrive in the temple to beat up the men who come to Barsana from Nandgaon village.
The men, many of whom are well-protected, enjoy the mock beating. The music and gulal add to the fervour.
The legend goes that Krishna used to ask his mother why he was dark and Radha was fair. His mother, Yashoda, suggested that he smear colour on Radha and make her complexion like his.
Krishna went to Barsana and smeared colour on Radha and her friends. The women then chased away Krishna and his friends with sticks for troubling them. The friendly tradition has carried on since then.
The lath mar Holi is world famous and people come from around the world to participate.
Lathmar Holi in Nandgaon: The next day, the action shifts to Nandgaon. People visit the temple early morning and then play Holi with gulal and water throughout the day. In the evening, it is the turn of the women of Nandgaon to beat up men from Barsana. The men run through the narrow lanes of Nandgaon as the women run after them carrying sticks.
Phoolon ki Holi: The festivities then shift to Mathura and Vrindavan. A cultural programme is organised at the Krishna Janmabhoomi temple in Mathura -- the birthplace of Krishna. Plays on the life of Krishna and the legends of Holi are staged.
People play phoolon ki Holi or Holi with flowers at the famous Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan. The idols of Krishna and Radha are beautifully decorated with various types of flowers.
Gulal Holi for widows of Vrindavan: Thousands of widows come to spend their last years in Vrindavan. They usually wear white sarees but on Holi, they break all rules and play with colour. The women smear gulal on each other and sing, dance and enjoy the festivities.
Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi: On the day of Phalgun Shukla Purnima (the full moon night in the month of Phalgun), Holika dahan is organised all over the city. Big fires are lit to signify the burning of the demoness Holika. In many localities, the local priests jump into the fire and come out unharmed, like Prahlad.
Rangon ki Holi: The next day, Holi with colours and water is played in Braj, much like in the rest of India. These days, organic gulal made with flowers has become popular.
Huranga of Dauji Temple: On the day after Rangon ki Holi, there is a boisterous Holi played in Nandgaon also known as Keechad Holi. Here, apart from colours, people play in the mud. Women once again thrash men with sticks.
This Holi is celebrated on the premises of the Dauji temple, on the outskirts of Mathura. In Surir and Nohjheel localities, men and women play with mud or keechad. Mud is brought in tractors and trolleys and mixed with water and thrown on people.
Also See: Holi revelries in traditional Indian paintings