‘Holi hai’—loud cry rends the air. People with coloured water and ‘gulal’ (coloured powder) move round the city markets and village lanes leaving none. All are their target. None can dare oppose. It is Holi. If your face is not painted and clothes not drenched with bright coloured water this day when will they be? It is the only day of the year when all controls are withdrawn and revelers are let loose on who’s over comes their way. Nature itself didn’t know that man, its own creation, will vie with its rainbow colours. Colours apart the faces may be painted with oily paints and even tarcoal. One may call it just indecent, unsophisticated, unruly, and uncultured-who cares! Even the highly educated enjoy the fun.
In the rural North people anxiously wait for the fun as soon as the harvest season is at their doorstep. Wheat and gram are the main crops. The fun and frolic continues for a few days during the season. The harvest brings joy to the farmer’s heart. He gushes it out in the form of a riot of colours and songs. ‘Braj’ area of Uttar Pradesh is the centre of the revelries. But the whole Cowbelt celebrates it. For the vanavasis (tribals) it has a great importance. They would sing for the whole night – nights together. They would dance untied.
Ekadashi (11th day) of the month of Flagon Shukla Paksha known as Rangbhari Ekadashi is the harbinger of braj revelries. Even foreigners would come to enjoy the fun of ‘lathmar’ Holi at Nandgaon. Keep a distance from the revelers lest you should be in the melee. It is a frightful still pleasant competition between the ‘huriyars’ (men) and ‘huriyarins’ (women). The men are ready with their ‘Pichkaris’ (pipe pumps) and the women with their lathis (batons and long sticks). The men would try to drench the clothes of women with coloured water while the women would beat them with their lathis. It is ‘lathmar’ (beating with sticks). Holi and the men would have shields on their heads to save themselves. They would continue singing ‘ Aaj na chooko khelne se rang do chahe chunariya’ (No one can escape the revelry even if the blouses are drenched with colours). There is no ill will-no feeling of revenge. Some may have minor wounds—they are the wounds of affection.
The Braj area – now generally the rural area – witnesses the Holi revelries for near about ten days. Besides ‘gulal’ and coloured water ‘dhool’ (dust) and ‘gobar’ (cow-dung) are also sprayed and applied on faces. The main function is on the evening sometimes late night too – of ‘Poornima’, (the full moon night) when there is ‘holika dahan’ (the burning of holika). Prahlad, the son of Hiranyakashyap, the evil king did not stop worshipping God even after many tortures. Holika, the sister of the king came to his help. She had the boon of not being burnt in the fire. She took Prahlad in her lap and sat on a burning pyre. Lo! the evil lady was reduced to ashes-Prahlad came out alive with the grace of God. The boon backfired. It was for her alone – not for taking revenge on anyone. Thousands of years have gone by people still remember the devout Prahlad and burn the ghost of Holika every year. The pyre is still arranged at road and lane crossings throughout the North and in some other areas too. In that very fire they would parch green wheat. The fire over — they apply the ‘bhasm’ (ash) on their foreheads. The next morning they are so; happy that for hours together they would play with colours in the streets to celebrate the burning of the evil lady In the other way the fire on the pyre is rather symbolic. It is rather the last day for bonfires that the poor bum to save themselves from the bitter cold of winter.
The revelries are over, the harvest is reaped. On ‘Dulahndi’ – the day next to Holi day – people enjoy the fun and exchange the parched wheat known as ‘Java’. It is rather gleeful to see the children and young boys and girls who would visit their friends in the drenched clothes to embrace them and have their share of sweets and snacks that are offered. It is an occasion of love and affection when all animosities are forgotten and all embrace one another. Colours are sprinkled on the devotees in the temples too, but the revelries are not limited to temples alone. The fun and frolic surpasses the distinction of age and devotion in the temples. It is festival of the common man and symbolizes love, affection and unity
Don’t be afraid of coming out of your houses after the noon hours if you don’t want to get drenched. You may visit your friends throughout the afternoon and the evening. If you doesn’t been able to see anyone wait for the ‘Holi Mela’ (Holi social gathering) the next day. Now in most of the cities the third day is celebrated as the Holi-Milan (Holi meet and embrace). People from all walks of life would attend it. It is a ‘Mela’ after all. There is everything for your eyes and palates – merry go round for the children and the young – sweets, ‘bhallas’ and a range of dishes – all vegetarian of course. Enjoy them with your family members, relatives and friends. There are stalls of books and of the different political – social – community and religious groups too. Choose one of your choices and embrace your friends. Yes remember you won’t have the opportunity to be a part of this fun-frolic and loving embrace for full one year till the ladies in Nandgaon again bring their lathis to play with their male partners.