Humans love storytelling, religion, mythologies, festivals, all a part of our own creation, giving meaning to things around us. As we say goodbye to winters, flowers begin to bloom and we are ready to welcome the spring season. In India the festival of holi marks the onset of spring, playing with colors and flowers is an expression of the celebration. Holi is celebrated in most parts of India, indeed the style across the country varies. In Mathura, the land of Krishna, holi is a very special occasion. The festival is a week long affair. Last year in March I traveled to Mathura, Vrindawan to experience its world famous holi.
The day I arrived I visited the Pagal baba ashram, from here a procession travels to the older ashram of the widows. As the procession moved, men, women and children danced to the ugly beats of the orchestra, everybody was painted in red and pink. When I looked at the widows there was desperation in their eyes yet some hints of joy, it is a day they forget their sorrows and play holi with Krishna. It was a bit sad to see that even today such an outcast system exists in the society for these widows of Vrindawan.
After taking a short break I headed to Banke Bihari temple. I had read the experience here is a crazy one. I walked towards the temple with the a never ending herd of people. As the crowd moved I was squished and pushed along, it was a bit traumatising especially with the camera in my hand. When I reached the temple the priests had just opened the main door of the temple, which signifies Krishna is ready to play holi with you. The crowd went radhe radhe in unison. In that moment of pure trance, I had goosebumps. Moments like these you realise your country is so diverse, colorful and crazy. There was absolutely no space to keep my foot! I had to bribe one of the priests to get me a decent spot to make some pictures, it was worth it.
Holika dehan, a ritual happens a day before the main day of the festival, a bonfire which signifies victory of good over evil. Before holika dehan there is a big procession in Mathura. I would rather call it a carnival, the celebrations are non stop. People dress up in costumes, dancing to the tunes of Bollywood and what not, and of course there is Radha and Krishna too. Buckets of water, balls of colors, you don't know what would come on to you, no one is spared. The environment was lively, locals, foreigners all shared the same level of energy.
A friend of mine & I had met some fellow travelers. We traveled together to most places, in the beginning we all were a bit afraid of colors and especially playing it with strangers. But it were the monkeys which made me more afraid. Yes, that's correct. They are notorious for stealing spectacles. I have no idea what's their fascination with it. I could not believe when I heard this from others, but when I actually saw it, I was stunned.
On the final day of holi there is a big celebration at Dwarikadeesh temple of Mathura. By the time we reached the temple I was already drenched in colors but now we were all bad ass, not afraid anymore, we walked with an attitude of bring it on. Inside the temple people were playing the drums, some dancing, and some like me were busy making pictures. The sight of different colors being splashed felt so festive. The atmosphere was exhilarating and the crowd was in a frenzy. I have never experienced such an energy in a temple. Even though I hadn't had bhaang lassi, it felt like I had had some.
Holi of Mathura and Vrindawan is a heaven for photographers but not for the faint hearted. You will be shocked, amazed and delighted at the same time, maybe even get pushed to the edge but as they say it’s all about collecting experiences.