Lath mar Holi 2012.
‘Lath mar Holi (Hindi: लट्ठमार होली) takes place well before the actual Holi celebration. It takes place at Barsana near Mathura in the state of Uttar Pradesh. People flock to the suburban town of Barsana near Mathura to see Lath Mar Holi, a special form of traditional festivity.
Legend has it that Lord Krishna visited his beloved Radha’s village on this day and playfully teased her and her friends. Taking offence at this, the women of Barsana 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 Lath Mar holi when women beat up men with sticks 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 of Lath Mar 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 gops then march out of the temple on the Rang Rangeeli Gali where they stop to play holi with the gopis, who stand in groups along the street. The second day gops from Barsana go to Nandgaon to play holi with gopis at Nandgaon.
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 called “lathis" to beat men folk who protect themselves with shields.
During intervals, participants sip ‘thandai’, a cold drink that is sometime intoxicating because it is laced with a paste called bhang, made of cannabis. Bhang and Holi go together. After drinking bhang, people react in different ways, some crave for sweets, others cry or laugh. It is an ecstatic experience, which is heightened by the revelry. It is a great way to de-stress and bond.
The air is thick with the scent of flowers and perfume. Rose petals and coloured powder rained on the pilgrims as they visited the deity sitting on his throne of flowers.
The women of Barsana start preparing a month in advance. ‘The mother-in-laws feed their daughters-in-law rich food so that they show off their prowess on the Holi battle zone. It is a show of love, fun and equality, one that even the gods descend to witness.