Barsana Holi

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The onset of spring is celebrated throughout India by with the colourful festival called Holi! And nowhere is the celebration more profound than the birthplace of both Radha & Krishna.
Legend has it that Lord Krishna used to visit his beloved and childhood friend, Radha in her native village, Barsana. He used to mercilessly tease her and her friends and taking offence at this, they used to chase him off using sticks(lathis).

In continuation with the legend set by Lord Krishna himself, the men from Nandgaon come to Barsana dressed as Gops (friends of Krishna) and play Holi with the women of Barsana. On the next day, men from Barsana dress up as Gops and go to play Holi at Nandgaon, birth place of Krishna.

Such is the significance of this festival that people from both villages start preparing for the festival months in advance to showcase their strength.

The anticipation is such that people from various parts of the country come to Nandgaon and Barsana to celebrate Holi here. The atmosphere is that of a fair with the shops & street vendors decorating their merchandise to maximise sales.

As the evening sets in, the men start dressing up as Gops, covering their heads with elaborate turbans which are filled with cotton to protect their heads. From the elderly to the youngest, every man participates with an enthusiasm which is hard to match. From dressing up in ornate clothes to help dress the younger kids, there is a buzz all around, especially amongst the youngest!

Cross dressers and transgenders often dress up as Radha and play with Holi with the men.

Holi in Nandgaon is played inside the Nandagram Temple. It consists of the main structure standing in the middle of a large courtyard. The courtyard is surrounded by a lofty wall which commands a great view of the Bharatpur hill.
Men and the kids are seen dancing to the religious tunes played in the background and throwing colors on each other and the women.

You can see performers playing music and collecting money, surrounded by hoards of people dancing to their tunes.

The day ends with coloured faces sipping “thandai, a cold drink that is sometimes intoxicating because it is laced with a paste called bhang, made of cannabis, a Holi tradition.

The men from Nandgaon stand by the main gate of the temple with buckets of water and colour to welcome the men from Barsana. In a bid to outdo each other in a show of strength, the welcome can get very aggressive.

This is followed by the most fulfilling ceremony of the festival, “the Samaj”. Men from both Nandgaon and Barsana, young and old, sit in the courtyard and sing songs in the praise of both Lord Krishna and Radha.

All throughout buckets of coloured water and dry colour is thrown on them by the men from Nandgaon. One has to be there to witness this ceremony and the determination with which the men sit and take the onslaught of colour.

With colours all around, this indeed is a vibrant welcome of the colourful season of Spring.

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