India is known for her vibrant culture, beautiful festivals, and rich traditions. But there is hardly anything better than Holi that captures the colourful facet of the country. And there is hardly a better place than Mathura-Vrindavan to celebrate the festival of colours.
The Braj area, where Sri Krishna spent His childhood, has many beautiful traditions leading up to Rangpanchami. Legend has it that Holi began as Krishna, who was frustrated with His dark complexion, smeared colours on Radha and other gopis. This beautiful story between the two divine lovers has given rise to many traditions that the Brajwasis have carefully nurtured and kept alive even today.
While the rest of India celebrates Holi on 2 March this year, Brajwasis have already begun celebrating their most colourful festival. Ramanreti, Gokul Holi on 19 February marked the advent of the festival.
Here are the other important dates:
Date – Event
23 Feb – Nandgaon Phag Amantran Utsav
23 Feb – Barsana Laddu Holi
24 Feb – Barsana Lathmar Holi
25 Feb – Nandgaon Lathmar Holi
26 Feb – Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi ki Holi
26 Feb – Vrindavan ki Holi
27 Feb – Chharimar Holi, Gokul
1 March -Holika Dahan, Phalain ka Panda
2 March -Dwarkadhish Holi, Chaturvedi Samaj ka Dola
3 March -Dauji ka Huranga, Jav ka Huranga, Nandgaon ka Huranga
3 March -Mukhrai ka Charkula
4 March -Baithan ka Huranga, Giroh ka Huranga
The experience of Holi in Braj is something to cherish for life. People from all across the world travel to Vrindavan during this time, smear one another with colour, and celebrate their love for Krishna.
It is a festival to forget and forgive, to soak in the magic of the Vrindavan atmosphere, and to celebrate divine love.
This year, Mahashivratri will be celebrated on 13 and 14 February. In Vrindavan, the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva such as Gopeshwar, Gokuleshwar, Govindeshwar, Bankhandeshwar, and Taleshwar draw a huge number of Shiva devotees.
Legend has it that Lord Shiva is the first Vaishnav ever because He is a devotee of Lord Vishnu whose avatar is Lord Krishna. In fact, many believe that Lord Vishnu too is an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva.
Ages back in the Dwapara Yuga, the town of Vrindavan witnessed something that stands testimony to Lord Shiva’s profound love for Krishna. In fact, it was this incident that gave rise to the feminine form of Lord Shiva, the form in which He is worshipped in the Gopeshwar Temple in Vrindavan even today.
This happened on a beautiful full moon night when Krishna along with Radha and His sakhis were performing Raas Leela on the banks of Yamuna. Keen on being a part of the Leela, Lord Shiva and His wife, goddess Parvati, visited Vrindavan. However, while Parvati was allowed into the Raasmandal, Vrinda Devi stopped Lord Shiva from entering the town. She explained that the Raas Leela was a tribute to Radha and was an attempt to please her. This is why sakhibhav was necessary. Being a woman, Parvati inherently had the sakhibhav while Lord Shiva didn’t.
Lord Shiva then waited outside Vrindavan, but so keen was His desire to participate in Krishna’s transcendental dance, that He meditated about Radha. Radharani was pleased by this and sent her closest friend Lalita to bring Shiva. When Lalita met Shiva, she told Him everything about sakhibhav and how the only way for Him to attain it was to take a dip in the holy Yamuna.
Shiva took this dip and emerged as a beautiful damsel. He entered the Raasmandal in this form but Krishna immediately recognised Him and hailed Him as Gopeshwar. Even today, Lord Shiva is worshipped every evening from 5 pm to 9 pm in this feminine form in the Gopeshwar Temple, a temple where the Shiva linga is believed to have been established by the gopis themselves. It is also believed that the gopis prayed to Gopeshwar for the fulfillment of their desire of getting Krishna as their husband.
The next time you visit Vrindavan, spend at least an evening in the Gopeshwar Temple when the Shiva linga is dressed as a gopi and special shringar ceremonies are performed.
Being in Vrindavan during Holi is a divine experience in itself. People from all over the world visit the place to celebrate the festival of colours the way the Brajwasis do it. However, have you ever wondered what went behind making the festival what it is today?
Legend has it that Krishna, frustrated by his own dark complexion, complained to his mother that it is only unfair that he was so dark and Radha was so fair. Hearing this, Mother Yashoda came up with a unique solution. She playfully asked Krishna to smear colours on Radha. Krishna loved this idea and went from his village Nandgaon to Barsana (where Radha lived) and smeared colours not only on Radha but also on the other gopis. It is also said that the women of Barsana took offence at this and beat up the men visiting from Nandgaon.
Brajwasis have kept this tradition alive in the unique way they play Holi.
Barsana, for instance, indulges in Lathmar Holi where, following the legend, men from Nandgaon visit the women of Barsana with gulal. They also carry padded shields to counter the sticks or lathths that the women of Barsana playfully hurl at them. Lathmar Holi is celebrated roughly a week before the actual Holi.
According to another story, Radha and Krishna first played Holi with flowers. Even today, the Banke Bihari temple celebrates Phoolon-wali Holi, that is, a Holi played with flowers. Priests of the temple throw flowers at the devotees after the gates are opened. Phoolon-wali Holi is also played at Gulal Kund near Govardhan Mountain after the enactment of Raasleela by the locals.
Holi in Vrindavan is beautiful, but it is also something that you need to experience in order to understand the essence of the festival. If you have never been to Vrindavan during Holi, you have not seen Vrindavan at its beautiful best. Come, get drenched in the colours of love. Feel the presence of Krishna in His own land. Take a trip back in time and re-live a festival the way the Lord Himself played it.
Basant Panchami marks the official beginning of Spring, and Vrindavan knows how to celebrate it with their beloved Thakurji.
For the Brajwasis, Basant Panchami is not just the day to worship Maa Saraswati. It is also a precursor to the 40-day long Phag Mahotsav, a festival that is so closely related to Krishna.
Keeping true to the spirit of Spring, the colour yellow sets the tone for the day. Marigolds in full bloom decorate the temple premises. Even the deities in many temples wear yellow dresses and garland. Just a walk through the meandering lanes of Vrindavan will mesmerise you with the brightness all around.
Spring weaves itself into every street of Vrindavan, making its way into the temples, and right into your heart.
It comes as little surprise that Krishna bhakts from far and wide choose this day to pay a visit to their beloved god. They usually begin their day with a dip in the holy Yamuna. The temples of Radha Raman, Radha Shyam Sundar, Banke Bihari, Radha Vallabh and Shahji Mandir welcome thousands of devotees on this day.
It is on this day that the Shahji temple opens its Basant Kamra, a room that is opened just twice a year—on Basant Panchami and during the month of Shravan. If you happen to be at this temple on this day, you can behold the myriad lights, the impressive chandeliers, the colourful glasses, and the enthralling roopa of Lord Radha Raman Lal in the gem-studded golden palanquin. Even the special chhappan bhog prepared on this day is yellow in colour. Devotees play with gulal, heralding the festival of Holi. However, the first gulal is applied on the Lord Himself in the temples of Braj.
In his ‘Story of Vasant Panchami’, Radhanath Swami says that in essence, all festivals are the same—an occasion to foster unity among ourselves so that together we can celebrate our love for the Supreme God. No matter what the festival is, the celebration is the same—participating in kirtans, discussing Krishna Katha, and having His prasadam. Basant Panchami is no exception.
If you have never been to Vrindavan before or even if you have, this is the perfect time to visit the Lord in His Land. Come, spend at least a week in Vrindavan. Express and experience your love for Krishna like never before.