Swathed in the pinks and greens of abir and gulal, in bright purples and blues and vibrant yellows with streaks of silver; gujiyas, dahi vadas and kanji; the mandatory and still fresh rang barse being belted out on dholaks in bhang-infused voices…could this be anything but Holi – the festival that celebrates the arrival of spring? But in a country as diverse as ours, how can one festival have just one translation. This festive season, let’s take you to different regions in India that have their own unique way of celebrating Holi that’s rooted in their culture and traditions. While the playful abandon remains the same, every one of these celebrations is distinctive.
Phoolon Ki Holi
Legend has it that the first Holi ever played between Radha and Krishna was with flowers. This is celebrated even today every year in the holy town of Vrindavan, the place where Krishna spent much of his youth. Recreating raas, the eternal romance between Radha and Krishna, people play Holi with flowers – vibrant marigolds and gulaab. The phoolon ki Holi is unique also because this is one festival that has traveled through the country, being celebrated at Krishna temples in various places not only in India but across the world. So much so that in recent years, people have been recreating phoolon ki Holi even as part of their pre-wedding celebrations.
The Latthamar Holi of Barsana and Nandgaon – towns located in the region known as Braj – the birthplace of Lord Krishna is as different from the regular version of Holi as possible. Also called Braj ki Holi, this one is played with colors and some serious beating the living daylights out of men! The men, pretending to be gops or shepherds visit both towns in an imitation of a young Krishna visiting Radha in Barsana, to tease and play Holi. They find themselves at the business end of thick bamboo sticks wielded by the gopis. Sure they also play regular Holi with mounds of color but it is the beating with happy abandon that’s the star of the show!
At the opposite end of the raucous Holi of Braj is the happy, joyous and subtle Holi celebration at Shantiniketan in West Bengal. Called Dol Jatra and initiated by Guru Rabindranath Tagore, this celebration of the spring season is organized by the students of the Viswa Bharati University at Shantiniketan. Dressed in vibrant hues of yellow, adorned with flower ornaments, the crowd sings songs, dances to the tunes of the dhol and throws color in the air.
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Holi celebrations in Punjab extend to the very well attended ‘warrior holi’ or the Hola Mohalla – an open air exhibition of military skills, physical agility and stamina. Founded by Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru, Hola Mohalla is held at Anandpur Sahib and showcases skills like wrestling, bareback horse riding, gatka, acrobatic military drills and more followed by kirtan or prayer meetings. A memorable event, Hola Mohalla takes the festival to a new dimension.
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If you thought Holi was a festival restricted northern India, you haven’t heard of shigmo – the Holi of Goa. The land better known for its sun kissed beaches and the endless partying holds some wonderful secrets and this spring festival celebrated by the Konkani community is just one of them. A fortnight of singing, dance performances like talgadi, gopha and hanpet and prayers offered to deities ends in richly designed parades with decorated floats and an atmosphere of revelry.
So no matter what part of the country you are in this Holi, you are sure to get drenched in a million colors or flowers, get to see some amazing warriors or even get a taste of the lathi! But don’t take it to heart because bura na mano, Holi hai!
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