Play Holi In Barsana Style - The Lath-Mar Holi

All of us must have celebrated Holi - the very joyful, energetic and religious festival of India, people celebrate Holi with dry colours, coloured solution, the means to fill and spray others with coloured solution (pichkaris), water balloons filled with coloured water, and other creative means to colour their targets. Holi - Popularly known as ‘Phagwah’ in Assam, ‘Dol jatra’ in West Bengal and ‘Fagu’ in Nepal, Holi is celebrated with different names and traditions across India.

But what if we tell u that there is a village in Mathura district, Barsana (also known as Brahmasaran, Barsana Dham or Varsana) where people play Holi with wooden sticks. This unique type of Holi famously known here as “Lath Mar Holi” or “Braj KI Holi”. ‘Lath’ means Bamboo stick (staff) and ‘Mar’ means Hit – Hitting with Lathi’s.

Barsana lies on a slope of ridge. Holi of Barsana-the birthplace of Radha, a village 40 kms away from Mathura, is of particular interest. Here, men from Nandgaon-the birth place of Lord Krishna, come to play Holi with the girls of Barsana and hope of raising their flag over Shri Radhikaji's temple. But, instead of colours they are greeted with sticks by the gopis. Hence, the Holi get its new name here Lathmar Holi (A Braj way of celebrating Holi).

LathMar Holi at Barsana

Lathmar Holi takes place around a week before the main day of Holi. The next day, it is the turn of men of Barsana. They reciprocate by invading Nandgaon and drench the womenfolk of Nandgaon in colours of kesudo, naturally occurring orange-red dye and palash. Today, the women of Nandgaon beat the invaders from Barsana. It is a colourful site.

Holi Celebration at Barsana, Braj Bhoomi
Story behind Lath-Mar Holi:
As per Hindu mythology Lord Krishna visited his beloved Radha's village on this day and playfully teased her and her friends. It is said that Lord Krishna being dark in complexion and Radha being fair, Lord Krishna applied color to her face. Thus began the festival of colors, Holi. The women of Barsana took offence and chased Lord Krishna and his friends away by running after them with lathis (Bamboo Sticks). Men and Women of Braj even today clash in a colorful display of battle of the sexes. Men of Nandagaon raid Barsana with the hopes of raising their flag over Shri Radhikaji's temple. They receive a thunderous welcome as the women of Barsana greet them with long wooden sticks (staff). The men are soundly beaten with Lathi’s as they attempt to rush through town to reach the relative safety of Shri Radhikaji's temple. Smart enough, men come fully padded as they are fully aware what kind of welcome awaits them and also the fact that they are not allowed to retaliate on that day. In this mock battle the men try their best not to be captured. The unlucky ones are forcefully led away and get a good thrashing from the women. Further, they are made to wear female attire and dance in public in the spirit of Holi. All this takes place in the sprawling campus of the RadhaRani or LadliJi temple, the only temple of RadhikaJI in India.
RadhaRani Temple in Barsana
Renowned poets like Surdas, Nand-das, Kumbhan-das and others have picturesquely described how Lord Krishna received similar treatment and was forced to don a sari and wear make-up and perform dance before being released by the gopies.

One of the other delights of this festival is a drink called thandai (भांग), During intervals, participants sip 'thandai', a cold drink that is sometime intoxicating because it is laced with a paste called 'bhang' made of cannabis, almonds, fennel seeds, saffron, milk, sugar and cardamom. Bhang and Holi go together. After drinking bhang, people react in different ways, some crave for sweets, and others cry or laugh. It is an ecstatic experience, which is heightened by the revelry. It is a great way to de-stress and bond. Lathmar Holi is a day where the normal routine is broken.

About Barsana village:
This village is settled on and around two hills which are adjacent to each other. The white colored hill is the longer one and is called Brahma Hill while the black colored one is called Vishnu Hill. Padma Purana states that Lord Brahma has taken the form of these hills in Barsana so as to get the dust of the lotus feet of Shri Shri Radha Krishna and Their devotees on his heads. There are four peaks of these hills- Bhangarh, Maangarh, Daangarh and Vilasgarh and each of these peaks is one of the heads of Lord Brahma. Vilasgarh lies on the Vishnu Hill while the rest three peaks lie on Brahma Hill.

Why people celebrate Holi in India:
There are two legends associated with Holi. Originally, Indians celebrate this festival to commemorate the departure of winter and the beginning of the new season of spring, which brings good harvest.

The other legend according to Hindu mythology is that of the death of Holika, the sister of Hiranyakashipu – the King of Demons. According to this legend, Hiranyakashipu was granted a unique boon by Brahma after a long penance. The boon made the King of Demons invincible, specifying that he cannot be killed during day or night; inside the home or outside, not on earth or in the sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by any shastra(Weapons). The king soon compelled people of his kingdom to worship him alone. It was his own son Prahlada- a devotee of Lord Vishnu- who rebelled against him. Seeing this, the arrogant king ordered his own son to be killed. Despite Hiranyakashipu’s endless threats and warnings, Prahlada continued to offer his prayers to Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu tried to kill Prahlada many times – poisoned his food, made elephants walk over him but nothing could harm the little boy. The king then went a step ahead and locked his son in a room full of poisonous snakes. But yet again, he failed in his attempt. When all his efforts failed, Hiranyakashipu ordered Prahlada to sit on a pyre with his sister Holika, who was gifted with a boon that prevented her from getting burnt. The obedient boy readily agreed to his father’s command. As he sat on his aunt Holika’s lap, he started praying to Lord Vishnu for his safety. The Almighty’s blessings saved Prahalada while Holika was burnt to death, thereby surprising one and all.

The death of Holika symbolizes the end of evil. And hence, people across the nation celebrate Holi with utmost fervour, by using myriad colours, to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

Holi celebrations:
Also, Holi is not a one day festival as celebrated in most of the states in India, but it is celebrated for three days.
Day 1 – On full moon day (Holi Purnima) colored powder and water are arranged in small brass pots on a thali. The celebration begins with the eldest male member who sprinkles color on the members of his family.

Day 2- This is also known as ‘Puno’. On this day Holika’s images are burnt and people even light bonfires to remember the story of Holika and Prahalad. Mothers with their babies take five rounds of the bon- fire in a clockwise direction to seek the blessing of the God of fire.

Day 3- This day is known as ‘Parva’ and this is the last and final day of Holi celebrations. On this day colored powder and water is poured on each other. The deities of Radha and Krishna are worshipped and smeared with colors.
Holi celebration in different regions of India:
In Assam, Holi is popularly called ‘Deol’ or “Phagwah”.

In Manipur, Holi is celebrated along with their centuries-old festival of ‘Yaosang’ and it is celebrated for six days.

In Bengal, Holi is celebrated as ‘Dol Purnima’

In Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, Holi is populary known as “Braj Holi” The Holi festival is celebrated in the land of Braj bhoomi altogether for 15 days, right from the day after the Phalgun Amavasi.. In places like Mathura, Vrindavan, Nandgaon, Barsana, Goverdhan, Dauji and Baldev, the festival starts from the beginning of Basant Panchami. This season is known as Holika-ashtak. During this time, all other activities like weddings and family functions or sale and purchase of new properties etc. are put on hold.

Every year, devotees & foreign tourists from all over the world visit the Braj region to play holi and are seen lost in a trance, forgetful of their dresses, disfigured with splashes of colors. Devotees are also seen singing Holi songs in pure Braj Bhasha (the classical language of the land).

This year Lath-mar Holi celebrates on 24th February 2018 in Barsana, and on 25th February 2018 at Nandgaon. Holika Dahan is on 1st March 2018 and actual Holi celebration is on 2nd March 2018 across India.

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