Festival of colours: Lathmaar Holi of Barsana
Holi, the festival of colours, is celebrated across India with pomp and fervour. The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter, and as a thanksgiving for a good harvest.
Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika Dahan where people gather, perform religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil be destroyed. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi - a free-for-all festival of colours, where people smear each other with colours and drench each other.
The customs and celebrations of Holi vary between regions of India. Though smearing of colours is more or less observed everywhere, some traditions are region specific.
Lathmar holi celebrated in Barsana
Holi is of particular significance in the Braj region, which includes locations traditionally associated with the Lord Krishna, which are Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon and Barsana.
Women beat men with sticks as part of a tradition
Legend has it that Lord Krishna visited his beloved Radha's village on this day and playfully teased her and her friends. Taking offence at this, the women of Barsana chased him away. Keeping in sync with the story, the men from Nandgaon visit the town of Barsana every year, only to be greeted by lathis of the women there. The ladies hurl sticks at the men, who try to shield themselves as much as they can. The unlucky ones are captured by the enthusiastic women who then, make the men wear female clothing and dance in public.
Devotees soak in the festivities
On the first day of Lath Mar Holi, gops (shepherds) from Nandgaon come to Barsana to play Holi with the gopis (shepherdesses) of Barsana. The festival begins with a ceremony at the Radha Rani temple. After this ceremony gops then march out of the temple on the Rang Rangeeli Gali where they stop to play holi with the gopis, who stand in groups along the street. The second day gops from Barsana go to Nandgaon to play holi with gopis at Nandgaon.
Centuries old tradition in Barsana
The next day, it is the turn of men of Barsana. They reciprocate by invading Nandgaon and drench the womenfolk of Nandgaon in colours of kesudo, and palash. This day, women of Nadagow beat the invaders from Barsana. Holi played at Barsana is unique in the sense that here women chase men away with sticks. Males also sing provocative songs in a bid to invite the attention of women. Women then go on the offensive and use long staves called "lathis" to beat men folk who protect themselves with shields.