Every year as the month of March approaches, my heart starts to swell with excitement, for with this month comes my year-long hope of being there in Vrindavan once again for the festival of Holi. Though, since the last 7-years of my life, I have been celebrating the festival in the bewitching streets of Vrindavan, still something keeps enticing me to this place. I don’t know whether it’s the place, or the people or the temples or the sound of ‘Radhe Radhe’ which lures me to be there every year.
I eagerly await for the Holi festival every year to celebrate it in the streets of Vrindavan and the memories of this festival remain always fresh in my mind throughout the year. Vrindavan is a place where, I believe, people lose their heart in the divine beauty of the place and its enchanting narrow streets, but find a connection within their soul.
This year, I reached there a day before the main Holi festival (also known as Dhulandi) and my Holi started with 4.30 am ‘early morning Puja’ at the ISKCON temple, which is colloquial for its Hare Krishna movement all around the globe.
After the Puja, I took some rest and then headed towards Shri Banke Bihari temple. As the temple got nearer, the narrow streets of the Vrindavan got jammed by the swarms of devotees. This temple is the heart of Vrindavan; and if you are there and don’t go to this temple, your visit would always remain incomplete and you would not get blessings of the lord.
Devotees from all around the globe come here to celebrate Holi with the Lord Himself. Inside the temple, the priests throw colours and holy water from their pichkaris (water guns) and the crowd chants ‘Radhe Radhe’ in unison. In this very same temple, just a few days before the Holi, flower petals are showered over the devotees to celebrate a unique Phoolon wali Holi (Flowers’ Holi) without the conventional dry or wet colours.
After somehow managing to get out of the temple, I headed towards Shri Radha Vallabh temple. In this very same temple, 2-days before the Holi, widows gather and celebrate Holi with the lord. Holy water from huge water guns is sprayed in the air which feels as if the lord is showering the blessing over his admirers.
Holi festival comes as a treat to the photographers. For the colours and the joy of happiness is so enticing that they can’t stop themselves from picking up their lenses and getting out on the streets drenched with vibrant emotions. All around Vrindavan, I could see photographers from around the world, trying to capture some of these enthralling moments.
After that, I walked towards ISKCON temple which is very famous among the foreigners and for the same reason, it is also called angjrejo ka mandir (or the temple of foreigners). The music, the dance and the tranquilising sound of ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare’ are what exactly defines this temple.
One of the defining moment of this year’s Holi was when I saw 3 boys disguised as Radha’s Companion, playing kikli, dancing, jumping and frolicking to please the Lord. The candid smile on their faces (which rather signified their devotion towards the lord) dropped my jaws to the floor, which left me wondering whether the lord was visible to them. Some things are meant only to observe and you can’t give words to them, such was this feeling.
This dance which these boys were performing is traditionally known as Raas Leela – the dance of passion – depicting the life of Lord Krishna and, his beloved, Radha; and how their love painted this world in the colourful essence of togetherness and belonging.
This very moment reminded me of the first time when I was there in the temple and used to call myself an atheist. I could easily recall the scenario when an old man of around 70, being completely immersed in the name of Krishna, was dancing to bewitch the lord. I was not only enthralled and overjoyed by the scene but also my senses found a new rhythm. My feet started moving and I knew not when I started dancing and jumping with only ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare’ on my mouth. This very same feeling is what, I believe, connects me to this temple. I feel it’s not me who goes there, it’s as if they want me every time around.
Similarly, after a while, I lost myself again in the divine name of the lord and didn’t know what happened next, untill it was time to close the darbars (or gates) of the temple. I had to undesirably leave the temple and felt as if the hours passed in minutes that day.
Holi is celebrated to depict the victory of good over evil and has a very religious purpose associated with it, symbolising the legend of Holika. The night before Holi, bonfires are lit in a ceremony known as Holika Dehan (burning of Holika Demon). People gather near the bonfires, sing, dance and pray to the Lord.
As the Holika was being burned in the evening, I met a Brazilian man who, being fully disguised in the attire of a yogi having one mala (a string of prayer beads) in his hand, asked me what is this Holika Dehan about. After explaining about its history, I asked him if was doing okay, for he looked very sad. He said rather broken-heartedly that the next day would be his last day in the city and he would be leaving for Rio after staying in the country for 5 months. Then I realised that there is something spiritual in this place, for everybody who comes here finds some kind of solace within their soul.
The next day which is celebrated as Dhulandi all over the country, I decided to explore the streets of Vrindavan to catch some smiling faces of the devotees who get lost in the moment of pure bliss.
People strolling in the streets of this holy city often get surprised when mildly hot water pelts over them from different corners. They try to run away as quickly as possible only to find someone else who would colour their face in frenzy.
The cows and monkeys strolling around are an intrinsic part of Vrindavan. Cows with festoons of flowers around their neck and monkeys always ready to catch your specs and sunglasses in return of some food are discernible in its every street.
Shops with lassi, bhang and sweets (especially peda) sprinkled with colour were present at almost every corner. The city and its streets were mired in colours, even the clouds looked red that day.
People all around were spraying colours at each other, be it friend or stranger. But herein lied a downside associated with the place which could disturb any woman and refrain them from visiting Vrindavan during the time of Holi. Women are especially coloured on their faces, their necks, and sometimes even their intimate parts. This was very disheartening to see, but trust me, if I had any superpowers, I would have thrashed all these troublemakers and all those people who, in the name of Lord, fulfil their desire of touching women.
Soon it was 11.30 A.M. and all the major doors leading to the temples started getting closed, marking the culmination of this year’s Holi. While walking back, when I saw a girl of around 12-years-old colouring the people with her water gun, a bewitching smile emanated from her face every time she made a successful attempt. It was awe-inspiring – something for which I could have given everything if I could see that for the rest of my life – which literally summed up my Holi for the year.