Dolyatra - The Holi of Bengal


Dolyatra, commonly referred to as the festival of colours, is the last festival of a Bengali year. This Dolyatra is a festival being celebrated from time immemorial. Legend has it that the great Lord Krishna expressed his love on the day of Dolyatra, to her beloved, Radha. This myth, is exploited by the masses to usher in joy and happiness on the day of Dolyatra. Since this is the last festival of a Bengali year, it is celebrated with great elan.


Old houses in North Calcutta offer puja to Lord Radha Krishna before starting the celebrations. For the devotees of the Lords, this is an occasion to pray for the ushering in of joy and happiness. In some houses, the pujas are held with great fanfare. Bhajans are held day and night to celebrate the festival. Prasads are distributed lavishly and then people start indulging in putting 'phaag' on all and sundry.


Doljatra is also referred to as 'Basantautsav' since it is held in 'Basantakaal'. The 'Basanta' is the equivalent of spring season. In this season, the weather remains fresh - it is neither too hot nor too cold. The mind of the people also remains fresh. Hence, all of them join the revelry in a spirit of brotherhood. All thoroughfares of Calcutta remain closed on that day. From morning onwards, people start thronging the streets putting colours on passerby's. Groups come out with dhols in their hands singing songs of Lord Krishna and Radha. They distribute sweets and put 'phaag' on everyone. Coloured powder, popularly known as 'phaag' is the basic ingredient of Dojatra. It is through the use of 'phaag' that the expression of happiness of the people come out. The young starts the day by putting 'phaag' on the pictures of all deceased elders and then putting the same on the feet of all elders. The elders, in turn, put the same 'phaag' on the forehead of the youngers as a mark of blessing. After this aspect is over, they go about putting 'phaag' on everyone else. This ritual is very popular because the young and old take recourse to joining this festival equally with the youngsters.


Doljatra is observed with great gusto in Shantiniketan, in the campus of Visva-Bharati University. The students of Visva-Bharati start their preparations from long back. They take to decorate the whole campus with beautiful artistic 'alpana'. On the day of Doljatra, they being out 'Probhat-pheri' singing songs of Holi based on Rabindranath. Dance-dramas and skits are also presented on the occasion highlighting the importance of the occassions. Almost all students of the University take part in the event. Even the vice-chancellor joins the celebrations. The songs and dramas are filled with colourful clothes and the use of 'phaag' in keeping with the spirit of the occasion. People from all over Bengal throng to Bolpur to witness the events. It is from Shantiniketan that the usage of the term 'Basanta utsav' gained popularity. The celebration was initiated by the Gurudev himself and it continues till today. On the days of Doljatra, all hotels of Shantiniketan remain booked. Even foreign tourists flock to this place to gain a first-hand experience.


Doljatra is celebrated throughout India. In the rest of India, it is referred to as 'Holi'. Of late, the cassette companies have started releasing cassettes featuring various aspects of the festival. Not to be left behind, the card companies have also started printing cards for the occasion. Al these have contributed in making the festival more popular.


But, of late, certain digressions are also being observed. This event has become the cause of headache of the police authorities. The harmless spirit seems to have been getting lost. Drunken brawls are slowly becoming commonplace. Hooliganism in the name of putting colours are causing tensions. Even attempts are being made to put colours on members of those communities who do not observe the festival. Let us hope, that these aberrations cease soon and Bengali drown themselves in unalloyed enjoyment once more without malice towards anyone.  


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