First off, some of you may want to see that slide show below, if it works.
This post is kinda inspired by Leslie, who has made/ collaborated on a rather marvellous album called ‘The Black Taj’. Anyway, Leslie was a bit curious about Holi, so here goes.
Holi is generally celebrated at the time of the year when the season changes from spring to summer.
It is an ancient festival, and sources say that it has been mentioned in certain old texts like some of the Puranas. There have been stone inscriptions dating back to 300 BC.
There are several myths that pertain to Holi, the most popular one relating to the Demon King called Hirankashyapa. He wanted everyone to worship him, and was aghast when his son Prahlad worshipped the God – Lord Naarayana. He asked his sister – Holika – to sit in the midst of a blazing fire, with Prahlad on her lap.
She had been given a boon, that she would not be harmed by fire. However, she forgot that this was given only on the condition that she would be in the fire alone. She forgot this condition, and was burnt in the fire. Prahlad emerged unscathed.
Holi, literally means, ‘burning’.
Other myths surround other Gods, for instance, Krishna and Radha.
Anyhow, the festival, with all it’s movement and vigour also helps to invigorate the body, which tends to get listless in summer.
The festival is also associated with two drinks – bhaang and thandai. I am not sure that I will go into this one, but bhaang is hallucinogenic and thandai is not. However, thandai is a herbal drink, which is cooling. The tradition of bhaang and thandai date back to Vedic times. Bhaang is associated with the God, Shiva.
Now, there is ‘lath-maar’ Holi, which is typical of Barsana and Nandgaon, two villages near the town of Mathura.
The whole region – Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul, Govardhan, Nandgaon and Barsana – are collectively called ‘Braj Bhoomi’. ‘Bhoomi means land, and I have never found the history or explanation of ‘Braj’. However, this is Krishna-Radha land.
Krishna is the 8th (I believe) incarnation of Vishnu, and Radha is his great love.
Barsana is where Radha spent her childhood, and Krishna spent part of his childhood in NandGaon, which is named after his foster father, Nanda Baba. ‘Gaon’ means ‘village’, incidentally.
Why is Nandgaon special? Apart from other things, some – many – people believe that this is the birthplace of Hinduism. Certainly, it is in Braj Bhoomi (Govardhan, specifically) where Krishna ( a Hindu God ) defeated Indra ( a Vedic God ), and this is where the transition from the Vedic Gods to the Hindu Gods, is dated. However, it is never as simple as one single myth.
Anyway, Krishna and his Gops, went across to Barsana, and stole the clothes of Radha and the Gopis. The women, in return, hit them with lathis and all the men of Nandgaon, who were caught, were made to wear women’s clothes and dance in the streets.
The tradition continues till this date. On the first day of lath-maar Holi, the men from Nandgaon go to Barsana, at a predetermined time, where they tease the women, and then get beaten by the women. They protect themselves with leather shields. It seems that the women are given a special diet for a month before Holi to give them the vigour to whack the men!
On day two, the men from Barsana go to NandGaon, where the ritual is repeated.
All good fun…..
If you do see the slide show, you will see the crowds, and the mayhem. I was in the centre of the crowd, and I felt that the breath was being squeezed out of me, as I held my camera above my head, and shot the crowds.
All good fun…