New Delhi/Mathura: Colours, flowers, drums, bonfires and sweets - India, the land of festivals, is all geared up to celebrate Holi, the festival of colours, on Saturday.
People in many parts of India will be going all out in a daylong burst of revelry, playing with colours, dancing, feasting and following it up with family get-togethers, prayers and cultural soirees in the evening.
The day before the festival will see them light huge bonfires to signify the triumph of good over evil. The festival is also associated with harvest, fertility and lores of Lord Krishna, Hinduism's most popular god, his consort Radha and the harvest season.
The thrust of the festival this year is on “tradition.” “We are celebrating the festival at the community level. We will light a bonfire and sing Holi songs, mostly traditional ones. But we also have a band and we will perform after the bonfire. We'll also host a little party in the night. Our parents will organise a 'yagna' (ritual) to invoke Lord Vishnu (another name for Lord Krishna) at night,” said Lucky Singh, an 18-year-old aspiring musician in Delhi.
The spirit of Holi, say historians, are essentially colours. Scriptures say Lord Krishna played Holi with colours made from 'tesoo' flowers. He smeared villagers of Braj Bhumi - the land to which he belonged to in Uttar Pradesh - with coloured powder and sprayed fountains of red, green, yellow and blue water till the towns of Vrindavan, Mathura, Barsana, and Govardhan were bathed in colour.
Mathura and its adjoining towns that make up the Braj Bhumi have been a melting pot of the myriad colours of Holi and its accompanying spiritual genres for the last 5,000 years.
This year, the town of Baldev, nearly 20 km from Mathura, will be the node of action for two days after the festival is celebrated elsewhere. Krishna's elder brother Baldev or Dauji is the presiding deity of this town and Holi here is celebrated in a different way. Thousands of devotees, who have flocked to Mathura and its adjacent towns, already awash with colours and are looking forward to taking part in "Hurang or Hudang", a day-long carnival of songs known as rasias sung in the local Braj Bhasa, dances and cultural events.
“There is an element of mischief to it and freedom that allows the devotee to flow along with the joyous spirit of spring,” the priest explained. Large tanks full of ‘tesoo’ flowers are processed to churn out coloured powders and liquids. It is a great way to bust stress, renew social bonds and connect to tradition," says Ravi Shankar, a priest of Gokul Dham in Baldev. Revellers gorge on sweetmeats and gujias, a traditional Holi delicacy; and drink a brew called thandai laced with bhang, an intoxicant made from cannabis.
In Bihar, the festival is bit a raunchy in nature. After playing with colours in the day, revellers gather for noisy evenings of ‘humourous poetry and limerick recitals’ in local dialects that often border on the obscene.
In West Bengal, the festival is known as 'Dol Jatra', celebrated a day after the north Indian Holi and is marked by colourful processions.
In the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, colours and prayers form the essence of festivities followed by private parties. Residents of Jodhpur in Rajasthan celebrate Holi with golden pearls and colours, which they rain on each other.
Says Mumbai-based singer Sonu Nigam: “The most amazing aspect of Holi is that it is probably one of the oldest festivals in the world, besides Diwali. And every time, I celebrate Holi, it is with reverence. Of course, I detest forcing Holi on Holi-shy people... I love the energy and spirit behind the festival. We must look at our entire life as the festival of Holi - multi-coloured.”
However, commercialisation is taking is toll on the festival. According to a study by Delhi-based NGO, Toxics Link, mass production of colours in factories pose a threat to users and environment because the powders have been found to contain toxic chemicals.
In an advertisement in leading dailies, Delhi Chief Minister Shiela Dikshit urged people to play with eco-friendly colours made from beetroot, berries, spinach, mint, onions and peels of pomegranate.
Society for Child Development, a Delhi-based non-profit organisation, is also following traditional methods to make colours. The members of the group, mostly mentally-challenged, are extracting colours from flowers under its ‘Trash to Cash’ project.
“We collect used flowers from 16 temples dotting the banks of Yamuna river and the community prayer halls every morning and make coloured powders from them. The project also involves students of 100 schools in east and central Delhi, who have been trained to process flowers for Holi colours at special workshops,” said Madhumita Puri, who spearheads the programme.