Holi, one of the most joyous festivals of India brings a smile to a lot of faces. The festival of colour is also celebrated as a win of goodness over the evil. It is the time to let go of all the inhibitions, enjoy the experience of youthful flirtations and celebrate life with colours. Holi is undoubtedly a boisterous affair celebrated all through India with great fervor and vivacity. However, if you want to experience the traditional Holi, then you must not miss the Holi in Vrindavan, Mathura or the Braj Bhumi.
Holi in Vrindavan, Mathura and Barsana is visited by a number of people from all over the world. After all, it is an epic celebration. Although there is a fixed date for Holi, the celebration starts from Basant Panchami and continue beyond the day of Holi (Phalgun Purnima). To experience the best of Holi, we recommend you to arrive a few days before the actual Holi and stay beyond that date. And of course, it will be a field day for the photographers during Holi. There will be red, yellow, orange colours all over.
Legend of Holi
The festivities of Holi are mostly inspired by the mythological tales of Radha and Krishna. Their eternal love and joyful coquetry form the basis of all the different events celebrated during Holi in Vrindavan, Mathura and around. Krishna was the playful one. He teased Radha and the Gopikas (the girls of the village), flirted with them and also danced with them at Vrindavan. Everyone loved Krishna. Holi was the time when Radha and Krishna celebrated the season with colours and great festivities. Brindavan and Mathura are related to Radha and Krishna. Radha was born in Barsana and Krishna in Mathura. Vrindavan was the land created by Krishna for his love Radha Rani. The entire region was known as Brajbhoomi.
Braj Bhumi is spread across about 300 km on both sides of River Yamuna having Mathura and Brindavan at the centre. In the current day, Braj Bhumi is spread across Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Braj Bhumi is the land of Krishna, the place of Krishna Leela. Holi in Vrindavan and Mathura simply continues and celebrates these legends and stories.
Holi in Vrindavan Mathura
As I mentioned before, Holi is not confined to a single day in Vrindavan Mathura but is celebrated across a period of more than a week. There are various events being celebrated in various places. Here I would mention the main events of Holi. I have tried to keep it in chronological order.
1. Laddoo Holi, Barsana
While Holi is mainly the festival of colours, people in Brij Bhoomi celebrate Holi with flowers as well as Laddos (a rounded sweet). Barsana is the village of Radha Rani. There is a temple dedicated to Radha Rani on top of the Brahmagiri Hills.
The festival of Holi formally starts with the people of Nandgaon inviting the people of Barsana for the celebrations. This is known as Phag Amantran Utsav. Laddoo Holi is played on the same day in Barsana. Bundi Laddoos of bright yellow colour are thrown at each other in the temple. The entire place gets a hue of yellow. After all, yellow is the favourite colour of Shri Krishna.
On the next day, Lathmar Holi is played at Barsana and on the following day at Nandgaon.
Where – Barsana
When – Falgun Shukla Ashtami
2. Lathmar Holi, Barsana and Nandgaon
This is an interesting tradition and Holi celebration where the women chase the men and beat them with sticks or lathi. Hence the celebration is known as Lathmar Holi. Barsana and Nandgaon celebrate Lathmar Holi with great zeal and pomp.
Krishna lived at Nandgaon while Radha resided at Barsana. During Holi, Krishna would visit Barsana to meet Radha. He would tease Radha and her friends a lot. This offended the Gopis and Radha so much that they would chase Krishna and his friends with lathis and beat them.
The tradition is still kept alive with men from Nandgaon visiting Barsana for Lathmar Holi. The men would wear traditional clothes with turban and carry a shield with them. They would pay their tribute at the Radha Rani Temple and then gather in the streets. The ladies would then come out and beat the men with sticks on their shields. Of course, they would not want to hurt the men. There is electrifying energy all around the place during this time.
While the women hit the men with sticks, everyone is soaked in colours. Songs, dances, Bhaang Thandai are part of the celebration. The next day, men from Barsana go to Nandgaon for the same celebration.
If you are taking part at Lathmar Holi, be prepared to be drenched with colours. I don’t think there is any way to avoid it. Also, be careful of eve-teasing that might happen in this charged environment.
For photographers, this day can be a winner with so many colours and emotions everywhere. Do not hurry to take photographs. Be patient and take the time to find the perfect moment. You will be rewarded with some great shots. The best place to photograph is the top balcony of the temple. Reach there as early as possible. The entire place gets crowded very soon.
Where – Barsana
When – The day after Falgun Shukla Ashtami
3. Chhadimar Holi, Gokul
Chhadimar Holi is celebrated in Gokul, a small village on the left bank of Yamuna River. Sri Krishna spent his days as infant and toddler at Gokul. So in Gokul, Krishna is treated as an infant. In most of the temples in Gokul, infant Krishna is seen on a Jhoola or swing. A procession of child Krishna on Jhoola is taken across the town and later Holi is celebrated. The people play Holi with small sticks called Chhadi, and so it is known as Chhadimar Holi. This is a mild version of Lathmar Holi.
Where – Gokul
When – The day after Ekadashi
4. Phoolonwali Holi
Phoolonwali Holi is the celebration of Holi in Vrindavan with flowers and not any colours. I felt this to be quite unique. While at Basanta Utsav in Shantiniketan, Holi is celebrated with dry colours or gulaal, but it was lovely to see the celebration with flowers.
Phoolonwali Holi in Vrindavan is celebrated on the Ekadashi before Holi at the Benke Bihari temple in Vrindavan. The gates of the temple open at around 4.00 pm and the Flowers’ Holi start right after that. This one is a short one taking place for about 15 to 20 minutes. The temple priests throw flowers at the devotees from the temple.
Since this takes place for such a short time, you can miss it easily. To take photographs, you need to be at the temple right at 4.00 pm and enter inside just as the temple opens.
Where – Banke Bihari temple, Vrindavan
When – Ekadashi before Holi. At 4.00 pm
5. Widow’s Holi, Vrindavan
The life of the widows in India had been difficult. Once upon a time, they were ostracized from society and had to lead a very difficult life. Most of them were sent to the ashrams Vrindavan and Kashi as the family did not want to take care of them. These ashrams were their refuge and a roof above their head. A widow’s life was devoid of any colour and merriment.
However, things are changing now. Vrindavan has shunned the age-old convention (in this case, the tradition was not a good one) and the widows in Pagal Baba’s Ashram now play with colours during Holi. The widows have broken the stereotypes and played Holi with flower petals and colours. This noble initiative was taken by Sulabh International and started only in 2013.
While the Widow’s Holi is a good opportunity for the photographers to capture some exceptional frames, we would, however, request you to be sensitive to the widows. Please do not force the ladies to pose for your photographs. Also, if possible, play Holi with them. Being a part of this grand celebration is an awesome experience.
Where – Pagla Baba Ashram, Vrindavan
When – Around noon
6. Banke Bihari Temple, Vrindavan
Banke Bihari Temple is the main centre of the celebration of Holi in Vrindavan. While Holi festivities last for about 4 days in Brindavan and Mathura, the main event at Banke Bihari Temple takes place on the day before the main Holi festival (the day before the full moon day). The temple opens its doors and allows everyone to come inside and play Holi with Lord Krishna himself. The priests throw colours and holy water at the crowds. There is chanting of hymns all and around. The atmosphere is totally out of the world.
There is a celebration inside the temple as well as outside it. It simply becomes impossible to avoid colours. The entire place is packed with a crowd. There are colours everywhere. It becomes a bit difficult to describe the feelings in words. Holi at Banke Bihari Temple is truly an experience to cherish and a photographer’s delight. However, local women mostly avoid this celebration as the crowd tends to get rowdy at times.
Where – Banke Bihari Temple, Vrindavan
When – Day before Holi , 9.00 am to 1.30 pm
7. Holi Procession in Mathura and Holika Dahan
After you experience the Holi at Banke Bihari Temple in Vrindavan, you can head towards Mathura for the festivities. Holi is celebrated in a grand manner at Dwarakadheesh Temple near Vishram Ghat in Mathura as well. The festivities start in Mathura a few days before the actual Holi.
In the afternoon, at around 2.00 pm a huge and colourful Holi procession starts from Vishram Ghat in Mathura and goes around the town before returning to the same place. As the procession moves, people sprinkle colours on each other, sing songs and has bhang laced thandai. A few vehicles are decorated with flowers is taken around in the procession. Also, children dressed as Radha and Krishna participate in it. As everyone plays Holi with each other, get ready to be drenched in colours.
Holika Dahan takes place in the evening before the main Holi. In this, a large effigy of Holika is burnt along with a few rituals. The largest effigy is burnt near the Holi Gate.
According to Hindu mythology, Prahlad, the son of demon king Hiranyakashipu was a devout follower of Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashipu, on the other hand, hated Lord Vishnu. The king tried to frighten Prahlad so that he stopped worshipping Vishnu but to no avail. So to punish Prahlad, the king asked his sister Holika to hold him in a blazing fire. Holika had a boon that she would not be burnt by fire. But when she tried to hold Prahlad within the fire, she herself was burnt and Prahlad was set free without any harm. Holika Dahan thus signifies the win of good over evil. It is believed that you should give up all your bad in the Holika fire and start anew.
Where – Mathura
When – A day before the Holi, 2.00 pm to 5.00 pm. Holika Dahan – In the evening
8. Holi Celebration in Mathura
On the main day of Holi, a grand celebration takes place at the Dwarakadheesh Temple in Mathura. The gates of the temple open at 10.00 am, but a big crowd gathers there already from before. Inside the temple, a leaf bowl full of gulal and flowers are placed before the deity. You can also throw some gulal towards the deity.
If you start early in the morning, then you can see the procession at the Yamuna Ghat and also see the preparation of Bhaang by the priests.
The playing with colours starts later. Here mostly local men and kids participate in this. Women are conspicuously absent. However, many women travellers do participate in the celebrations.
Here, I would recommend the women travellers to be accompanied by a male partner. Things can get out of hand at times.
Where – Dwarakadheesh Temple, Mathura
When – 10.30 am to 1.30 pm
9. Dauji ka Huranga, Dau Ji Temple, Baldeo
Huranga is Holi celebration at its peak. This is the last prominent celebration of Holi at Dauji Temple located in Baldeo, 30 km from Mathura. Balram, elder brother of Sri Krishna is fondly known as Dau.
Huranga is actually crazy. Celebrated a day after Holi at Baldeo, the sleepy village, Huranga sees the women getting naughty. They beat and strip the men and then throw away their clothes. The men try to take cover while they are chased by hundreds of women. The tradition dates back to almost 500 years back when the Krishna Temple was established. Usually, only the members of the original family who established the Krishna Temple participate in Huranga, but others are also welcome to participate in the madness and take photographs as well. Huranga literally means riot and Dauji ka Huranga is a total riot in all sense. If by any chance a man gets in front of the women, they would rarely escape from them and get stripped!
The gates of the temple open around 12.30 pm when the men come into the courtyard holding buckets of colours. Next, the women in traditional clothes enter the courtyard and start stripping the men! Finally, the entire village takes part in the joyous celebration by jumping into the red pond of colours in the temple courtyard.
The theme of Huranga usually comes from the Rasleela of Radha and Krishna. During Holi, Krishna and his friends would tease Radha and the Gopis. The girls would get upset and then beat them up. The tradition still continues.
Place – Dauji Temple, Baldeo, 30 km from Mathura
Time – Day after Holi, 12.30 pm to 4.00 pm
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Some Practical Tips for celebrating Holi in Vrindavan, Mathura and Barsana
- Holi in Brindavan, Mathura and Barsana can get crazy at times. So prepared to be splashed with lots of colours, water and other things as well. Rotten tomatoes were even thrown at us once.
- The clothes you will be wearing for Holi will be unusable after that. So choose your dress accordingly.
- It is better to wear a cap to protect your hair.
- Do not carry valuables with you.
- I would again advise the girls to travel in groups with male members shielding them all the time.
- If you are a photographer, then it is important to make your camera Holi-proof. There will be water and colors all around you and so proper protection is needed for your camera gear. Have waterproof covers for your camera and smartphones also.
- Finally, enjoy the Holi is a glass of Bhaang and thandai.
Is Holi in Vrindavan safe to attend?
This is the most commonly asked question to us – whether or not to girls travel to Vrindavan and Mathura alone for Holi. For my part, I had also thought about this at a length. Here is what I think about it.
If you are not fond of a crowd, then it is better to stay at a distance. There will be people and lots of them. There is no way of escaping colors as well. It is the festival of colors and will be drenched with colors. And now comes the next important question.
Should Women Attend the Holi Festival Alone?
I would suggest you to be accompanied by a group of known males. I do not want to sound sexist or over-cautious, but this is for safety reasons. This is a festival where liberties are taken and consent is assumed if you are present at the place where the celebration is going on.
Harassment of girls and women is not uncommon. Even though there are police and security personnel in the surrounding, there is nothing stopping these incidents. Often men with colored faces come on bikes and grab the girls and apply colors on them forcibly. Foreign travellers are also the target of this harassment. Sometimes, even the men are not spared. So if you are a girl travelling alone or in a small group, I would advise you to find other travellers and attend the festival altogether. You can also join any Holi tour so that you can be with others as well.
These incidents do not happen to each and every person, but they are also not uncommon. The chances of eve-teasing and harassment are much lower if you are in large groups accompanied by male members.
Holi is a fun festival. People will apply colors if you are celebrating the festival. Just be cautious and alert and try to stick to a group. After all, you would definitely want to enjoy the festival and not always think about what might happen.
How to Reach?
Mathura is about 180 km from Delhi by road. Buses are available from Delhi ISBT at Kashmere Gate to Mathura. From Mathura, Vrindavan is about 14 km by road, Barsana is another 50 km and Nandgaon is about 60 km from Mathura. You will get buses and private taxis to all these places from Mathura.
Tentative Dates of Holi Celebration in 2023
Lathmar Holi at Barsana – March 2
Lathmar Holi at Nandgaon – March 3
Phholonwali Holi at Banke Bihari Temple, Vrindavan – March 5
Widow’s Holi – March 7
Holi Main Event– March 8
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