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My experience during Holi in Barsana and Nandgaon

By: Rajat Mulherjee
Published: March 2017

There are many places across India known for its unique Holi celebrations but the Holi celebrations in Mathura and Vrindavan are special. It is believed that Lord Krishna was born in Mathura and he spent his childhood in Vrindavan. This was my third consecutive tour to the Rangraas Brij ki Holi event in Barsana, Nandgaon and Vrindavan. We went in a group and purpose of our visit is to feel and capture the emotions, colors and moments of local people from these villages in our camera.

DAY 1: Vrindavan
On the first day we reached Vrindavan at around 12 in the noon. After a quick check in the hotel we had our lunch and straight away had a brief discussion on how we can protect our camera from colors and water. After making our cameras water resistant we headed for the famous Bankey Bihari temple dedicated to Lord Krishna.

DAY 2: Barsana
On the second day of our FOTOFOYER photography tour-Rangraas Brij ki Holi we reached the famed village of BARSANA at around 9:30, we parked our vehicle at one of the designated parking spot and went on foot towards the village. Along the path one can see the multiple groups of pilgrims singing and dancing with some accompanied with people chanting religious songs on loudseakers. So along with the crowd we started moving towards the village.  The crowd here diverts at a point and moves towards the Rangili gali while we diverted and went on to the hilltop temple via one of the stairs ways. A huge crowd of people, from various parts of the country and outside, have gathered at the temple complex. Even though the primary event starts at around 4 O’clock  in the afternoon, a lot of people can be seen dancing and enjoying at the complex right below the core part of the temple. Reaching at an early hour we had the benefit of time in our hands to move around and locate the best spots to watch the event and take pictures.

The village of Barsana is a relatively large village than Nandgaon. The network of streets is far more intricate. The Hilltop temple of Radha Rani is a huge construction with multiple stories. The road to the temple is littered with shops and houses and one must always keep an eye on the rooftops for mischievous kids who will drench you in water given the chance. The village people are mostly very kind and helpful and one can always seek help from them if such a need arises.

So after strolling through the streets and around the temple complex I took shelter at one of the stair ways to the temple with my camera to get a nice view of the men coming from Nandgaon. At around 4:00 PM. The group finally arrived, armed with shield of various design, they made their way to the temple complex. On the path the village people started to shower them with coloured water and mockery. Battling all the odds presented by the locals the group finally started reaching the Temple gates and I got the opportunity to change position and place myself at the point where stairs from two different places, from the village, merge and go towards the temple. While coming down the groups take turns to hurl insults on the local women fold of the village who in turn, armed with strong big sticks, lay siege on the heads of those men.

The view was spectacular, unique as well as somewhat scary. So along with the returning men of Nandgaon I came down to the streets of Barsana where the actual Lathmar holi was going on. I saw dozens of women taking turns to beat the men of Nandgaon, who were to seat down with shields over head waiting for the women to take turns in beating them. The event went on for the next couple of hours. Around 7 we decided to pack up and call it a day as more awaits at Nandgaon the next day.

DAY 3: Nandgaon
Today also we reached the Village of Nandgaon early morning. This year the crowd seemed somewhat thin in comparison to last year’s but that maybe because it was a week day. So after parking our car at one of the designated parking spots, which took some time finding out as nobody, including the police, knew where it is. Finally after parking our vehicle we took to the streets of the village of Nandgaon.

The villlage of nandgaon is said to be the twin village of Barsana. So the overall layout is pretty much similar. With a hilltop Temple dedicated to Nand Baba, Lord Krishna’s father. The village has similarly laid streets and stairways going towards the temple from the village.

Dodging much of the boisterous crowd who were ready to soak the by passers with coloured water from the roof tops. We reached the temple of Nand Baba. At the open courtyard of the temple people start quite early in the morning and go on celebrating holi till the afternoon right before the Men from Barsana are to arrive.

The surrounding roofs overlooking the courtyard are full of photographers waiting tirelessly to capture the event. Just like at Nandgaon the event here too starts at around 4 in the afternoon so meanwhile we decided to enjoy the festival with the locals smearing gulaal at each other and wishing a happy onset of the spring. The locals are very helpful and the extent of their hospitality can only be understood by conversing with them. A small example for this year was when few group mates of mine requested one of the village homes if they can keep their shoes inside. The old lady at the home not only happily obliged to the request, but when one them tired went to rest outside her home, she gladly welcomed him in and offered lunch. These people are indeed the real spirits of our Indian culture.

At evening around 4 we took position on the roof tops of the temple complex. To capture the Nandgaon men who came marching in an attempt to hoist their flag at the temple complex and then return. The invading group was greeted at the gates with big containers filled with coloured water, soaking them wet. I got a nice view of the event from the roof of the surrounding wall of the temple courtyard. On the other side, in front of the idols, a group of elder men sit down and chant hymns while being constantly drenched in coloured water and dry showers of gulaal. The rainbow of colors it makes can cannot be expressed in words.

Around 5:30 we decided to pack up and leave as we had a long journey back to Delhi ahead of us. While coming down from the streets we saw similar event of lathmar holi going on at the streets of Nandgaon. with woman beating the invading groups of men with strong wooden batons. While they sat helplessly with shields covering their head.