In India, the festival of colors Holi is celebrated on a very grand level, but this year the celebration of Holi hindered due to the speedy spreading fear of Corona Virus. The celebration of Holi was most affected in Brij. As the Holi in the Brij region is charismatic and incomparable. Here, the festival begins days before the main day of colors playing festival which is from the Phalgun Amavas to Ekadasi according to Indian Calendar. The festival speeds the pace from Ekadashi day, it is the 11th day during the waxing moon phase in Phalgun. The Brij is the region where it is believed that Lord Krishna and Shri Radha Rani were appeared and played with their friends and grazed their cattle. It is also said that Holi is a very favorite festival of Shri Krishna among all festivals. While walking on the street the residents sprinkle the color water and throw Gulal (Coloured Powder) on the tourists. This is the way to welcome them on the occasion of this divine festival. The holy Brij Bhoomi consists of the region of Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Phalen, Nandgaon, and Barsana. These villages played an important role in Hindu mythology where Lord Krishna spent his childhood.
On the occasion of the festival, the whole of Brij becomes very live. The Birjwaisis (local residents of the region ) and many artists across the world come to the region and celebrate the festival with singing songs in Brij language and performing dance dramas depicting the life of Lord Krishna. The temples and houses are elegantly lighted and beautifully decorated. The whole streets are covered with colors.
I am going to discuss this unique and memorable Holi tour under the threat of Novel COVID-19 and also to take part and observe the divine event of the Holi festival of Vrindavan, Baarsana and Nandgao respectively. Every year Lakhs of people visit Mathura and Vrindavan from every part of India to celebrate the festival with Shri Radha and Krishna.
The moment landed New Delhi airport, I need to rush for the metro train towards Nizamuddin where I have to catch the bus for Vrindavan. By road, the distance of Vrindavan from Delhi is around 185 KMs via Yamuna Express Way. The duration is around 3 hours. As the bus travels through the expressway, therefore, there is no categorized bus stop for Vrindavan. The bus halts for a few seconds and the passengers got off the bus on the flyover itself. From there we get sharing auto-rickshaws for Vrindavan and it is about half an hour travel to Vrindavan from the mid of Yamuna Express Way. As per my schedule, I reached on 4th March’20, then, I further had to travel to Barsana. Therefore, from Vrindavan, I hired an auto-rickshaw for Govardhan where I checked-in in the hotel. After the check-in formalities, I quickly rushed for another sharing auto-rickshaw towards Barsana. The weather was not favored, it was raining heavily and the environment became chilling. Anyways, I was very eager to reach the temple where the colorful event was waiting for me. It was all mesmerizing in the visualization only, so how the place in visiting was can be imagined.
Now, I reached Barsana. It is famous for its Lathmar Holi. Friends, Barsana is a small village near Mathura and Lathmar Holi commonly starts almost a week ahead the main day of Holi. The tradition is that the women from Barsana Village assemble with sticks made of wood to welcome men from to play Holi. According to Hindu Mythology, Lord Krishna belongs to Nandgao and Shri Radha Rani from Barsana. It is also a belief that Lord Krishna used to go to Barsana to play Holi with Radha Rani. Therefore, the men are Gopas (Cowherd Boys) from Nandgaon go to Barsana to play Holi with their beloved Gopis (cowherd females) to provoke them. In the given pictures you can see that the Gopas throwing colors and sprinkling color water on Gopis and Gopis beat them by wooden stick with love and care just to show their false anger against teasing them. The Gopas protect themselves by a shield. There are some folk Holi songs called 'Hori', sung by the men and women and are mostly based on the dialogues exchanged between Lord Krishna and Shri Radha Rani.
Inside the temple of Shri Radha Rani, there were thousands of people who throw the colors and sprinkle water on each other and greet by saying “Holi Hai” which means celebrate Holi. The fear of COVID-19 was also apparent here. Even there were thousands of people inside the temple but still, the presence was half of the numbers as compared to last year. People were playing and greeting each other with full precaution and usually, people were wearing masks. The management of the temple has also taken full precautions against the virus affect and installed huge water pipes and showers that throw colorful water to welcome the devotees in the palace of Radha Rani. It seems that the priests of the temple are the representative of Shri Radha Rani and they are serving the devotees of Shri Radha Rani by throwing colors, sprinkling water and flowers on them. The whole environment filled with only happiness and divine power. The floor of the temple covered with the sludge mixed of water and Gulal (Colour powder). It becomes slippery and a little dangerous for the people inside the temple but still, people are enjoying being in the Palace of Shri Radha Rani. Apparently this seems a huge mess but this is the actual glory of the festival. The Gopis dressed as Radha Rani and Gopas dressed as Lord Krishna and look so beautiful and divine. Full of love and compassion they play the festival of colors. The atmosphere became so loving and divine that if anyone throws Gulal or sprinkle water on any stranger they do not get angry but they greet each other with love.
I shoot this divine event in the Barsana temple for around 4 hours and then went back to Govardhan in the hotel. The temperature was down due to rains and the cold wind was making shivering the people around me. It was the double ill impact on the celebration, one was the fear of the virus and another was the cold weather which was not expected in the month of March in the region. As the next day, I have to go to Nandgao. The distance from Govardhan to Nandgao is around 30 KMs that means the travel of around 45 Minutes.
On 5th March’20 morning, I started my journey to Nandgaon as festivity in Nandgaon (Krishna’s village) is pursued as similar celebrations in Barsana on the very next day. Krishna spent his childhood in Nandgaon. As they say that Shri Radha Rani with her friends called Gopis (Cowherd girls) go to Nandgaon on the day to vindicate on Krishna and his friends by throwing colors on them. It was then, now mostly women did not go, so to represent women, men and trans-genders dressed as women from Barsana and go to Nandgaon to celebrate the festival of Holi with the Gops (Cowherd Males) in Nandgao. You can also see in the pictures how men wear beautiful ornaments and wear elegant sarees. They greet each other with sprinkling colorful water and a color powder called Gulal in the village. It is such a beautiful gesture towards Lord Krishna that a man dressed himself to seek the mercy of Lord Krishna and play the colorful Holi by singing “Hori” a folk song in Brij language and try to please HIM. This is the way of paying emotions of Brijwasis towards Lord Krishna and Shri Radha Rani. The whole scene is so divine and uncommon as the Gops play Holi with Gopis in a very graceful manner but they tease each other respectfully for the fun and this is the glory of the festival. There is a huge courtyard in the temple where the celebration of the Holi takes place in Nandgaon. The temple is decorated with flowers and colorful frills. The picture showing the little girl drenched herself in the color by throwing Gulal on her friends and they color each other with sprinkling color water also. The innocent girl looks so divine in the colorful faces. They also throw Gulal and water on the tourists and devotees present in the temple or even in the village. They do not bother that they are strangers or villagers. They just lost in the celebration with full trance.
The temple scene can be seen as the roof is full of spectators, media persons, videographers and photographers to capture the astonishing event of the year. The crowd is not only from the nation but people come to witness this divine festival across the world. The Holi songs of the Brij region are sung in pure Brij language and the foreign tourists also take part with the villagers, even they do not understand the language but they participate by clapping and copying the folk dance steps with the Brijwasis. The whole scene and the environment become so beautiful and the prover in Sanskrit “Vasudev Kutumbkam” which means the whole world is united can be witnessed in the palace of Lord Krishna who is the creator of the lakhs and thousands of universes. The lakhs of devotees of Lord Krishna and Shri Radha Rani from all over the world can be seen lost in a trance, forgetful of their dresses, torn or disfigured with splashes of colors and enjoying the divine festival. In the picture as you can see that on the occasion the people from Barsana and Nandgao villages sing folk songs and dance on dhol (kind of drum played in India).The boys who play Dhol (a kind of drum) are called Dholis and for hours they play Dhol to entertain the devotees and foreign tourists. This instrument is very different from the drum but sounds like a drum. The devotees of all ages danced on the music to please Lord Krishna. Some males wear Ghungru (anklet bells) and dance to please Lord Krishna. The devotees use all senses to please Lord Krishna and seek HIS mercy. I witnessed and capture the mesmerizing event for around four hours and then we all camerapersons and photographers came down to the ground where again the Lathmar Holi was about to play. It was an event organized in the afternoon. Due to the epidemic situation and fear of COVID-19 the duration of the event was shortened. Social distancing was the main concern for the government while organizing such events. Therefore, the event was over within an hour and I started my journey towards Vrindavan for attending the event of Holi in Banke Bihari temple.
The Banke Bihari Temple arranges a week-long festivity during Holi in Vrindavan. The temple also belongs to Shri Krishna and Banke Bihari is the popular name of Shri Krishna in Brij. The temple is decorated with colorful flowers and frills. Banke Bihari is dressed up in white clothes and priests sprinkle color water and Gulal on the devotees. The devotees sing folk songs in Brij language to praise Shri Krishna and become a part of HIS divine Holi play. On Ekadashi, falls before the main day of Holi, the arrangement of special Holi is being done for lakhs pilgrims visiting Vrindavan. In Banke Bihari temple the Holi is also celebrated with colorful flowers instead along with water and Gulal. The temple is closed from 12:00 Noon to 4:00 PM and the event starts at 4:00 PM in the afternoon after the Banke Bihari Temple gate opens. This event is called “Phoolonwali Holi” which means the Holi with flowers. There were thousands of pilgrims present in the temple for attending the event of Holi in Banke Bihari Temple and seeking the mercy of Shri Krishna. The females perform a folk dance on Dhol and sing the songs to praise Lord Krishna. The streets and walls of the houses become colorful, though looks a little messy but people continue enjoying the mess. It is a belief that Lord Krishna extends Himself and plays Holi with every pilgrim and devotee present in the temple which used to be His Palace before six thousand years. It is said that Lord Krishna while growing in Brij Bhoomi was very known mischief. He used to tease the Brijwais through His Pranks. Instead of getting angry, they used to enjoy those pranks, as in every prank there was His mercy and a lesson for the coming generation. While singing the folk songs “Hori” there is a depiction of Pastime of Lord Krishna, Shri Radha Rani, Shri Nandbaba ( Father of Shri Krishna ) Shri Baldev (Elder Brother of Shri Krishna ) and Yashoda Mata ( Mother of Shri Krishna ).
In India, the spring season is equally favorable along with Holi. This is the season where trees got filled with colorful and good smelling flowers. The most prominent tree is Palash Tree also called “Tesu” in Hindi. The beautiful orange colored flowers with fragrance also help in preparing color water and villagers use that colored water to sprinkle on the tourist and greet them on the Holi festival. It is a belief that the flowers of Palash are very favorable to Lord Krishna. It also gives inspiration for love, joy, and hope towards the designer of this beautiful universe. Nature gives us all kinds of tools to thank GOD for giving us the treasure of happiness. But, this year the celebration was apparently taking place in great fear of COVID-19.
As per the above photograph, the people are taking proper care of health and attending the festival as per the belief. There were few who seen fully surrendered to Lord Krishna and fearless about COVID-19 on the contrary people also seen their face covered with a mask for the safety purpose from COVID-19. The Brijwasis are using all necessary tools also for playing Holi like water balloons, Pichkaris and water guns. They also prepare various kinds of sweets on this occasion. The most popular sweet is called “Gujiya”. There is a popular drink also called Thandai. Some of the temples distribute Thandai among the devotees as offerings of Lord Krishna.
This year due to pandemic situation viz COVID-19 most of the routine pilgrims did not come to Vrindavan to witness the divine play of colors. In the Brij region, there are thousands of temples of Lord Krishna and Shri Radha Rani and every temple has its own importance and kind of celebration for the whole week in the month of Phalgun according to the Indian calendar. There were few celebrations in the Brij were canceled by the orders of the health ministry of India as the mass gathering is dangerous due to COVID-19. The Sulabh Foundation is an NGO that works for the welfare of Widows also canceled the Widow Holi at Pagal Baba’s Ashram in Vrindavan is due to the Pandemic situation. The Radha Raman temple was also closed as per the order of Government for precautionary measures.