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Holi – when colours speak to the soul in a thousand ways!

Laat Maar Holi of Mathura behind the lens

23 March, 2020

PHOTOGRAPHS BY Nilanjan Ray

TEXT BY Saheli Mitra

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Places like Mathura and Vrindavan start playing Holi much before the actual date of the Festival of Colours. A part of this colourful celebration of Spring comes in the form of Laat mar Holi, where women hit the men with sticks and the men try to stop them with shields. As per legend, Lord Krishna had visited his beloved Radha and playfully teased her and her friends. Taking offence at this, the women of Barsana of Mathura chased him away. Since then, men from Krishna’s village, Nandgaon, visit Barsana to play Holi in the town which has the distinction of having the only temple dedicated to Radha in India.

In the sprawling compound of the Radha Rani temple in Barsana, thousands gather to witness the Laat Mar Holi when women beat up men with sticks (laṭh or lāṭhī) as those on the sidelines become hysterical, sing Holi Songs and shout Sri Radhey or Sri Krishna. The Holi songs of Braj mandal are sung in pure Braj Bhasha. On the first day Holi gops (shepherds) from Nandgaon come to Barsana to play Holi with the gopis of Barsana. The festival begins with a ceremony at the Radha Rani temple. After this ceremony the colourful festival starts. 

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 or ‘lathis’ to beat men folk who protect themselves with shields.

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