Holi in Braj Bhumi - The Love Story of Radha Kraishna

Braj mein hori khelat Nandlal.

Kesar rang ki keech bhai hai,
Chahun or udat gulal,
Nachat gopal.

Braj mein hori khelat Nandlal.

Baajat jhanjhar, dhol, majari aur khartal,
Braj ki nari sangh hori khelat,
Nachat dede taal, sakhi.

Braj mein hori khelat Nandlal.

(This song sung by women describes Nandlal, as young Krishna is called, playing hori with the women of Brajbhoomi - the area comprising Mathura, Vrindavan, Gokul and Barsana that are associated with Krishna and Radha. 'Red colour is flying in all directions and the mud has turned slushy with saffron coloured water. Friend, dance to the beat as Nandlal is playing hori' - so the song goes.)

Holi - the word was originally hori or happiness in Brajbhasha, a dialect of Hindi language. In fact, in Braj, people still call Holi, Hori. The verse above happens to be the hori, as the song of Holi is called.

There are many myths surrounding this question and many of them link the festival to Krishna, right from the day this son of Devaki and Vasudev was brought to Gokul as an infant and placed in the care of foster parents. Born in a prison in Mathura during the night, he was taken away by his father to escape the wrath of his uncle, King Kans.

Time passed. The people of Gokul had just harvested a good wheat and gram crop - the first of the season. Winter was on its way out, the spring flowers were budding and it was a full moon day. Also, it was the month of chait or the first month of the Hindu year. Since everything around them gave the message of new life and the Nand household had an heir after a long time, the people of Gokul decided to celebrate. So wheat and gram were roasted, flowers of different colours were powdered and the women prepared sweetmeats. There was great singing and dancing to the beats of the dholak (the two-sided drum).

This became an annual ritual following the harvest and Hori became a festival.
There is an underlying element of eroticism in Holi. In the exultation and revelry, in the physical act of smearing colour, in the mock battles of throwing coloured water and gulal at each other. Spring itself is the season of love. And this festival seems to acknowledge and greet that.

But the origins of the eroticism lie in the story of Lord Krishna's (the great lover in Hindu mythology) fabled love for his beloved Radha. Holi is spread over two weeks in Mathura and Vrindavan, the two ancient cities Krishna has been associated with. Here, along with the coloured powder and water, lively processions come out in the streets, folk songs and dances are performed to the rhythmic beat of dholkis (folk drums), the mirror embroidered vibrantly coloured long skirts of the women swirling and swinging in gay abandonment.

Hindu mythology is full of stories about Lord Krishna's childhood pranks. And that of his youth when he with his mischief and the sweet sounds of his bansuri (bamboo flute) captivated the hearts of the gopikas (the cowherd girls), amongst whom he grew up. Among the gopikas, especially, was his beloved beauteous Radha. Most of the folk songs and folk dances, called Raas-Lila, in Northern India performed during Holi are recitals of Radha's and Krishna's love. The separations, the pining and the longing, the clandestine meetings, the adoration . . .

A game called "Huranga" is played during Holi even today symbolizing the Radha-Krishna love play. The men of Nandagaon, where the youthful Krishna played his pranks, and the women of Barsana, Radha's birth place, come together and clash. The objective being that the men put a flag on Radhika's temple at Barsana, symbolizing their victory over the women of Barsana, while the women beat the men with stout sticks to keep them away.

A land of ancient origins, intricate cultures interwoven over great periods of time, Holi portrays the diversity and the mythology of India to our senses even today.


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