Holi festival in Vrindavan

Post was created on March 30th, 2011

The colour-throwing festival of Holi is one of India’s most popular celebrations. While Delhiites will gather in a friend’s garden to celebrate in a controlled environment, devout pilgrims head to the towns of Vrindavan-Mathura, the stamping ground of the mischievous god Krishna.  

 

The Holi festival in this area is famous, as people relive the myths of Krishna and Radha with playful and feverish devotion over ten days in the villages of the surrounding areas .
 

Whilst Holi is a harvest festival that welcomes Spring, it’s also a chance for devotees to express their love and devotion for Krishna. Many of the temples are densely crowded and noisy, as pilgrims throw colour and wind themselves up into a high state of ecstatic devotion.

 

 Holi is also a time when society’s norms can be inverted temporarily. At certain village rituals, men provoke women with provocative and insulting songs, and the women retaliate by beating men with sticks or wet rags.

In one village, women dance with 50kg of flaming lamps on their heads.
 

In Vrindavan, beautiful Lilas (plays) that depict Krishna’s life are acted out on stage.
 

 One of the final rituals involves staying up until 5am to watch a priest run through an enormous bonfire, enacting the myth of Prahlad – a youth who proved his devotion to Krishna by surviving a fire. The village square throngs with hundreds of young men high on bhang, and every rooftop is packed with villagers. The priest has undertaken weeks of fasting, spiritual and mental preparation and, year after year, he emerges unscathed from his 10-second run through the flames.

 

 As if the challenges of surviving ten days of crazed crowds and colour-throwing are not enough, we (trusty cinematographer Bonnie and I) were filming the festivities for my documentary film A Life Exposed, about Australian photographer Robyn Beeche, who has been living in this area for the last 20 years and documenting the local rituals.

The festival is both exhausting and elating, but definitely a lifetime’s experience.

 

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