August 08, 2018
Holy festival, better known as the Holica is one of the greatest festivals held in India & Nepal. Festive energy expressed by colorful powder spray, layer upon layer couple with loud songs, dance and parade. This carnival goes on from morning to late at night. Children and teenage dudes chase and spray colored powder or liquid upon anybody they come across. From young to old no one is immune, especially elegant dressed people who are targeted without mercy. It is hard not to be dragged into the sense of celebration that line during the two days festival. No wonder Holi attracts tens of thousands of locals and foreign tourists. The colored powder spray custom is called Gulal, and together with colored water blasting, Hindus celebrate the approach of the fresh spring season. Additional traditional acts are bonfire rituals, prayer, alcohol consumption and bhang lassi drinking, which is marijuana blended with hot milk. Teenage groups of drummers march from place to place, sing, dance and drag people into high feeling, joy and happiness. Influenced by the alcohol and 'hidden from the eyes of the gods' thanks to the colored clouds, some men stray into misbehavior exhibited by pushing hands into ladies' bosom. Women are warned to pay attention and stay away from groups of men. Many intoxicated gangs move together, shout loud 'Happy Holi' and attempt to hug everyone, especially young women. Above all, what makes Holi so unique is the boundary removal of the social casts and free crowd mixing. During the Holi events, it is clearly obvious the integration of men & women, young & old, poor & rich and member of different casts, all happily celebrating together. It is customary to wear white clothing during Holi, so that the variety of colors will clearly exhibit. One way or the other, at the end of the day everyone is covered with colors, head to toe. Therefore, it is recommended to hit the streets with minimal carry on which is well protected with tight sealed plastic bags. Specifically, one should take care of the precious camera, anyway accumulating some powder that will stick for months. Special protective kits can be purchased in professional photography shops. However, they encumber some photographic practice, so it is advisable to try it first at home. Nevertheless, the Holi experience is worth the effort and it is strongly recommended to have fun and flow with the commotion.
The legends associated to the festivities
Holi festival is a Hindu religious celebration indicating the beginning of the spring season and in accordance with the mythology, the victory of good over evil. The colors symbol vitality and the festivity represent the triumph of life, love and passion. The main legend that explains Holi tells us about Vishnu, one of the three major gods in Hinduism, who killed Hiranyakashipu's young brother. Being the lord of Satan, Hiranyakashipu wanted to govern the skies, earth and world of darkness in addition to his desire for revenge. Equipped with almighty power, Hirayakashipu felt undefeatable and commanded all mortals to worship only him. His son, Prahalad, opposed his view and remained loyal only to Vishnu. At a moment of uncontrolled anger, the cruel tyrant decided to kill his son with the help of his sister Holika known for her fireproof super power. A pyre was lit and Holika sat on it crushing her nephew, Prahalad under her. Surprisingly with the generous help of Vishnu, Prahalad escaped the fire unharmed, while Holika the evil was burnt to ashes. The Satan, Hiranyakashipu, was liquidated eventually by the good lord Vishnu, and that is the message of the triumph of good over evil. Holika's legend is restored annually by actors and costumes, and many bonfires are lit to symbol the elimination of evil spirits.
Holi is celebrated at the end of the winter, on the last day of the month Phalgan, at which the full moon is visible. Phalgan in the Hindu calendar coincides to the period in between mid-February and mid-March. Festivities commence on the evening before the Holi day, with bonfires' rituals called Holika Dahan. A large crowd gather around the bonfires and embark on services, glorifying the burning of Holika, the source of evil, and hoping for the elimination of all evil as was done by Vishnu. In Braj county, of Uttar Pradesh state the almighty god according to Hinduism is Krishna. The source of Holi celebrations revolves around his image and his beloved, Radha. Krishna means in Sanskrit, dark blue and the legend tells us that as a baby he developed dark skin, caused by poisonous milk breast fed by his nursemaid, Putana. Since young age, Krishna rejected his dark skin and in a moment of revengeful anger, killed Putana. His main fear was that the light skin, Radha and her girlfriends will reject his courting. One day Krishna shared his frustration with his mother. How injustice nature can be, creating Radha so beautiful, light skin while he is dark and not attractive. To calm him down, Krishna's mother advised him to color Radha's face in a variety of colors that he desires. Equipped with a mischievous mood, Krishna visited Radha unexpectedly and smeared her face with intense colors, so that she would look like him. Over the years this legend evolved into a popular tradition, sweeping the whole country to a carnival of color spraying and water jet called Pichkaris, which symbolize the total eternal love of Krishna to Radha.
Where is it recommended to celebrate Holi
The Holi celebration is practiced all over India, Nepal and even in some western countries such as the United Kingdom and USA. However, it is recommended to experience the celebrations in the northern part of Uttar Pradesh in the villages of Nandgaon, Barsana, Vrindavan and Mathura, located about 50 km north to Agra and 145 km south east to Delhi. Krishna was born in Mathura and grew up in Vrindavan. That is why the celebrations, parades and happiness in these villages are the greatest and go on for the entire week. In the towns of Barsana & Nandgaon the festival starts prior to Holi and is special to these places. It is called Lathmar Holi which means, the act where women beat with sticks. According to the legend, Lord Krishna visited Barsana, the home town of his beloved, Radha. As a joke he teased her and her girlfriends which caused them to feel bad. Angry and offended, the women drove him out of town by beating him with sticks. Consequently, as a tradition, on the first day of Lathmar Holi, Nandgaon's men arrive at Barsana to play Holi with the women. This carnival commences at Radha Rani temple which is located at the village summit. The procession moves forward into the town's alleys. The men, organized in packs approach the ladies which stand firm, face covered, at the threshold of their houses. The men start singing lewd songs while splashing colors everywhere, until the ladies jump forward and start hitting them with sticks. The following day, women of Barsana arrive at Nandgaon and the festival picks up momentum. In the village of Vrindavan the focus of festivities is held in Banke Bihari temple. There people celebrate Phoolon Wali Holi, meaning the Holi of flowers. This event involves flower throwing in place of color spraying and is unique for this town.
Festival do's and dont's
Holy 2019 will be held on March 21th, meaning that the bonfire celebrations commence the evening before. The Holi events in Uttar Pradesh state will start a week in advance, at around March 15. Exact schedule and locations will be advertised on the internet, However there's a bit of confusion in online advertising. Therefore, it is highly recommended to double check the exact dates with local tourist information. Holi is a very powerful experience and it is important to keep in mind a few safety rules.
1)Holi celebrations commence in the morning and go on until late afternoon. In some places the stores and restaurants are closed. It is therefore advisable to stock up on essential supplies, food in particular.
2)During the festival it is customary to wear white clothing so that the color spray will clearly be visible. Normally they can be purchase in local stores a day before, Chances are that the clothes will get wet and some what transparent, therefore it is best to wear additional internal layer.
3)Places where Holi is celebrated are packed with local and foreign tourist. It is advisable to reserve accommodation well in advance.
4)Going out to the streets, it is advisable to carry minimal items, well wrapped in a waterproof bag, emphasis on the expensive camera. Protective accessories can be purchased in special photographic shops. These wrappers complicate the photo process, so it is best to try them at home in advanced. For personal safety during the powder blasting keep mouth closed, eyes protected with glasses and head covered.
5)Enjoy yourselves but note the local celebrants. This instruction applies both to women and men, but lady tourists are a target for harassment during Holi. Many locals drink alcohol beverages some consume cannabis, which can cause irresponsible wild behavior. That doesn't mean everyone behaves that way, on the contrary most men behave appropriately, but this is a day prone to trouble and sexual harassment. During the festivities many men gang stroll around the streets, some of them drunk and stoned, spray all over paint powder and shout out loud 'Happy Holi'. Then they try to force a hug from every passerby especially western women. Therefore, it is better to wear long modest clothes that do not become transparent upon getting wet. Going out to the streets women should be accompanied by trusted men. Avoid getting into a crowd of dancing men or alleys full of men's group. Stay vigilant, make your voice heard 'No Hugs' and if someone bothers you than raise your voice. In the end it is important to remember that not all Indian men will try to exploit the situation and many will even help. So, stay attentive and follow your gut feeling.
The writer and photographer is Dr. Gilad Fiskus, an expert in culture photography around the world
August 08, 2018