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Photos: Inside the vibrant chaos of Holi festivities at Mathura and Vrindavan

From Barsana’s Lathmar Holi to the charming Phoolwalon ki Holi at Vrindavan, which trades gulal for rose and marigold petals, Holi celebrations in Uttar Pradesh are nothing short of a spectacle. The streets run riot with colours and boisterous revellers for seven days, making it an experience worth including on your bucket list.

In Uttar Pradesh’s holy cities of Mathura and Vrindavan, Holi isn’t a one-day burst of gulal. Known collectively as Braj Holi, the boisterous celebrations last a whole week. Lathmar Holi of Barsana and Nandgaon, Phoolwalon ki Holi at Banke Bihari Temple and Widow’s Holi in Vrindavan. While the festivities will be a low-key affair this year, here’s a glimpse of them in all their glory. 

Nandgaon Temple Complex
(Photo: Abhijeet Kar Gupta/Flickr Creative Commons)

Much of Braj Holi is centred around the mythology of Radha and Krishna. According to legend, Krishna (who is believed to be born in Nandgaon village in Mathura) would visit Radha at Barsana village. Jealous of his consort’s fair complexion, he once decided to douse Radha in colour at the suggestion of his mother. Seen here are Holi celebrations at Nandgaon temple, which is perched atop a hill. The crowds here are massive but the temple rooftop will give you a stunning bird’s eye view of the chaos and respite long enough for a quick photo-op.

lathmar holi
(Photo: Mazur Travel/Shutterstock)

As the legend goes, Radha and her friends would often chase Krishna away with wooden sticks or lathis. Carrying on the tradition, the women of Barsana village wield lathis and thrash the men of Nandgaon. The women are usually dressed in a ghoonghat (veil) and the men carry shields to protect themselves from being injured.

Banke Bihari Mandir
(Photo: Adam Cohn/Flickr Creative Commons)
Banke Bihari Mandir
(Photo: Adam Cohn/Flickr Creative Commons)

Crowds throng Banke Bihari temple at Vrindavan where priests, also known as Goswamis, shower devotees with water and colour. There’s plenty to photograph here but even onlookers are not spared from being drenched.

(Photo: Ruslan Kalnitsky/Shutterstock)

In the afternoon, after the revelry at Banke Bihari Temple wraps up, a Holi procession starts out from Vishram Ghat to Holi Gate. You’ll spot many attendees dressed like Radha and Krishna dancing in the backs of trucks.

Phoolmar Holi
(Photo: Pexels)

Phoolmar Holi is also played at the Banke Bihari Temple. However, this time, instead of water or gulaal, the air is filled with petals of rose, marigolds and other flowers. The gates of the temple usually open at 4pm on the day of Ekadashi and the event lasts about half an hour, so make sure you get there early.

(Photo: IndianFaces/Shutterstock)

In 2016, several widows participated in the Holi celebrations at Vrindavan’s Gopinath temple, which is dedicated to Krishna. Over 1,000 women broke an age-old tradition that disallows widows from playing Holi. According to reports, 5,000-6,000 widows live in Vrindavan and Mathura presently, many housed in government ashrams. 

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