From Mathura…with love

“Radhey Radhey!” an excited voice sweetly uttered. The next moment, my palms felt the fine dust of the pink gulal that was smeared on my cheek by a pair of gentle hands. My lips gave a flash of smile and instantly reciprocated, “Radhey Radhey!” to the unknown face. I had finally landed!

Surpassing the apprehensions and stereotyped inputs about woman safety; going solo to Mathura sounded pretty exciting. But then being a first timer to an affair like this, there was every possibility of missing out on important timings and locations; so I teamed  up with DCP Expeditions, along with a group of fellow photographers. I can now claim that Mathura is just as safe as any other city for a lone woman traveler. Though the element of exercising caution and alertness always goes as a mandate, nothing should hold you back!

Within a few minutes of belting myself to the seat of my early morning flight to Delhi from Bangalore, I floated away into a faint slumber. My mind rattled through all the pre-trip chaos I had sailed through the previous day- mild food poisoning, an unforeseen storm, a never ending power cut, half charged batteries and a sleepless night with a bunch of mosquitoes for company. A loud alarm rang, waking me up with a jerk. As I looked through the window of my plane, my face lit up with the faint rays of a tranquil sunrise that was  just taking birth from the womb of the earth. The sky resembled a rainbow layered in bright orange, chrome, yellow and white, mildly transforming into shades of blue. Within seconds, the blues vanished and a tiny tinge of bright light emerged at the horizon and rapidly grew into a molten ball of fire. All of this happened within minutes and I had no clue of how and why I had woken up just in time to witness such an ecstatic dawn! Somewhere in my heart I knew that my trip had begun on a good note..

The real fun of travel is when you become a local. Dumping the thought of a lame taxi, I decided to take a 6 seater rickshaw ( which I refer to as “Tum-Tum) to reach Govardhan, where I was to join the rest of the gang. After enjoying forty mins of a bumpy ride through crowded markets, narrow roads with endlessly honking vehicles and streets exuding strong and undivided devotion to their favourite Lord, I finally reached Govardhan! Exhausted and hungry, I hogged on the simple but lip smacking lunch that was served. That evening, we set out for some street photography in the lanes and markets of Govardhan. From fancy dressed street kids to saffron clad Sadhus, from local pandits to civilised monkeys, from colourful shops to men and women doing parikramas, the streets were filled with action! (Parikrama or Pradakshina means circumambulation of sacred places, mostly used in context to religious deities. Doing a parikrama as a symbol of prayer is an integral part of Hindu Worship and is done in a meditative mood).

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Street Photography at Govardhan

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Amidst hot chai and chit chats later that evening, we indulged in the most important task of wrapping our cameras and lenses in plastic as a prep for the next day. This is the first thumb rule to follow before venturing out for Holi Photography. Well, no matter how carefully you’ve done your job, be ready to spend on post usage servicing. Your equipment WILL go for a toss and there is no way out!

Holi in Mathura lasts for 10 days or more, but the “do not miss” events can be narrowed down to “Lathmar Holi” at Barsana, and the “Samaaj” at Nandgaon. Phoolon ki Holi, Laddu ki Holi, and celebrations at Banke Bihari Temple, Iskon temple and Gulal Kund are most admired and can make their way into your list if time permits!

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Street photography at Govardhan

Amidst hot chai and chit chats later that evening, we indulged in the most important task of wrapping our cameras and lenses in plastic as a prep for the next day. This is the first thumb rule to follow before venturing out for Holi Photography. Well, no matter how carefully you’ve done your job, be ready to spend on post usage servicing. Your equipment WILL go for a toss and there is no way out!

Holi in Mathura lasts for 10 days or more, but the “do not miss” events can be narrowed down to “Lathmar Holi” at Barsana, and the “Samaaj” at Nandgaon. Phoolon ki Holi, Laddu ki Holi, and celebrations at Banke Bihari Temple, Iskon temple and Gulal Kund are most admired and can make their way into your list if time permits!

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The incredible faces of Barsana

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Amidst hot chai and chit chats later that evening, we indulged in the most important task of wrapping our cameras and lenses in plastic as a prep for the next day. This is the first thumb rule to follow before venturing out for Holi Photography. Well, no matter how carefully you’ve done your job, be ready to spend on post usage servicing. Your equipment WILL go for a toss and there is no way out!

Holi in Mathura lasts for 10 days or more, but the “do not miss” events can be narrowed down to “Lathmar Holi” at Barsana, and the “Samaaj” at Nandgaon. Phoolon ki Holi, Laddu ki Holi, and celebrations at Banke Bihari Temple, Iskon temple and Gulal Kund are most admired and can make their way into your list if time permits!

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The Sadhus of Barsana

 

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Disappointed with the bad sync and miss out, we headed to the lanes of Barsana to witness “Lathmar Holi”. The best panoramic view of Lather can be captured by perching on the roof of one of the hundred houses, clearing one’s sight off the numerous wires hanging around. These houses charge a nominal fee of INR 50 or so and let you take possession of their rooftops! The house we chose was painted green, was made of stone and proved to be an instant coolant. Towards the left was a cow-shed made of dung; with a buffalo merrily grazing inside it- totally cut-off from the madness! Towards the right was a hand pump that tempted us to taste its sweet and refreshing water. Adjacent to it was a steep stairway which led to the roof- so steep that I could have rappelled! Securing our places, we patiently waited for the ceremony to begin.

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Mobs of men and women were swarming the lane below. From the rear end of the house, I could see the Radharani temple at a distance with blobs of orange, pink and red gulal being thrown into the air. A helicopter that circled above, shoved loads of flowers into the temple. Beneath the cloud of colors, I caught sight of the first “Radha” who came out of her house, clad in Zari and jewellery. With a ghoonghat pulled right till her chest, she held a 5 foot long and heavy cane or “Lathi” in her hand. Soon, many more “Radhas” were out on the street. As the belief goes, Lord Krishna, with his comrades, visited Barsana to tease Radha and her friends, “The Gopis” by throwing colors. In retaliation, the Gopis used to playfully beat them up with Lathis to chase them away. Barsana has kept this tradition alive since then. The men from Nandgaon come to Barsana and sing provocative songs to attract the attention of the Gopis and in turn get hit by Lathi clad women. These men carry huge shields to defend themselves in the act and offer money and bow with respect to them before they leave. The same act is repeated the next day where men from Barsana visit the women of Nandgaon to play Lathmar.

Moments later, a procession of a few men beating an enormous Dhol cruised by. Lathmaar gained momentum and suddenly the whole of Barsana looked like a painting of colors coming alive with the symphony of the ‘thuds’ of lathers, the songs and the animations. Such a treat to watch! Time rolled and the sun began to set behind the temple. A cool breeze blew, the halo of colors settled and the madness lessened. Amidst all this action, hunger took its toll and I found myself feasting on some mouth watering Kachoris and Samosas with patches of green and pink gulal on them! Looking at my raised brow and indecisiveness, the vendor uttered ” Bura na mano..holi hai!!” Hygiene felt like a lost word in my dictionary.

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_MG_1472My alarm rang at 6am and I sprang up with an achy body and droopy eyes, but with the thrill to kick off the day! Nandgaon, considered to be the place where Lord Krishna spent his years from childhood upto his teens, is 20 odd kms from Govardhan! Action had already started when we arrived. Chants of “Radhey Radhey” and the Gulal throwing ceremony continued here too, though I felt it to be much more vibrant and prettier than Barsana. The beauty of the village is captivating. Narrow lanes were patrolled by kids and teenage boys in their white dhotis and turbans, armed with pichkaris and Gulal, who ensured not a single devotee or tourist was spared! The distance from the main road to the Krishna temple is hardly a kilometre, however, we became a victim of continuous attack of colors and water! Pushing my cam into my sack and covering it up with a poncho, I decided to soak in this glory and it turned out to be an absolutely delight!

“Aaj Biraj me Holi re Rasiya ( Today its Holi in Braj, my sweetheart!) echoed from different corners of the temple; so addictive that I was subconsciously humming it over and over again! After lingering in the courtyard and enjoying my dance with one of the Sakhis, I decided to secure my place on the terrace to capture the highlight of Nandgaon- “the Samaaj”. Soon, people started pouring in dozens and the entire temple transformed into a drama of voices and faces.

A few Pandits from the temple brought 3 huge barrels to the roof. Loads of flowers were dropped in the water, mixed for a while and then squeezed out of the drums and thrown on the devotees below. This water was then sprayed on people through huge pichkaris from above as the crowd basked in the frenzy.

                                                   The beautiful Sakhees of Mathura

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My alarm rang at 6am and I sprang up with an achy body and droopy eyes, but with the thrill to kick off the day! Nandgaon, considered to be the place where Lord Krishna spent his years from childhood upto his teens, is 20 odd kms from Govardhan! Action had already started when we arrived. Chants of “Radhey Radhey” and the Gulal throwing ceremony continued here too, though I felt it to be much more vibrant and prettier than Barsana. The beauty of the village is captivating. Narrow lanes were patrolled by kids and teenage boys in their white dhotis and turbans, armed with pichkaris and Gulal, who ensured not a single devotee or tourist was spared! The distance from the main road to the Krishna temple is hardly a kilometre, however, we became a victim of continuous attack of colors and water! Pushing my cam into my sack and covering it up with a poncho, I decided to soak in this glory and it turned out to be an absolutely delight!

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The temple courtyard was covered with water, flowers and colors, making it way too slippery. A few devotees enjoyed being pushed on the wet floor and being dragged by their legs to form a disk of colors. The Sakhis were engrossed in playing “Phugdi” (art form involving brisk circular rotations at a gradual and fast pace by criss-crossing hands with a partner). Adding to the action, one of the Sakhis ended up slapping a tourist who tried to act smart, ensuring that guy was finally out of sight! The Sakhis in their flared attire looked like brilliant yellow and red butterflies fluttering their wings, careless and free in the midday sun!

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Just as the sun began casting its shadows on the temple, two clans decked up in vibrant costumes and turbans entered and the long awaited “Samaaj” kicked off! The temple transformed into an amphitheater orchestrated with songs, dances and animated conversations; continuously bombarded by thick fog of pinks, reds, yellow and greens and a perpetual spray of water! I stood there, awed and dumbstruck, devouring as much possible of this spectacle in the middle of a perfect chaos that did not really matter. For once I let my camera hang itself carelessly around my neck, and let my soul drench in the magic of this unmatched act of colors, devotion and spirituality. After an hour of  unbeatable dramaturgy, the music and sounds gradually faded and the “Samaaj” finally concluded. We made our way back through the shrunken and cosy streets of Nandgaon- our naked feet drenched in colors and our hearts glowing in the warmth of love that Nandgaon had showered upon us.

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Nandgaon had pulled me into a state of pure trance. I could visualise an immensely beautiful Radha running swiftly into the woods, her Chunar flowing carelessly in the wind; being teased and chased by her dusky and charming beloved Krishna, who then smears her with a handful of bright red Gulal, and the couple dancing their way into the blissful “Raas Leela” under the eternal fountain of love! Looking like a drenched rainbow, I walked my way back from the narrow lanes of Nandgaon, and found myself inevitably throwing both my hands in the air and chanting “Radhey Radhey!!

A few snippets for first timers :

  1. Don’t just go for photography, bask in the glory of Nandgaon. Your cam could rest a bit!
  2. Confusion and frustration is normal. Don’t expect miraculous photos at the first attempt.
  3. Camera and lens proofing is a mandate, your equipment is still prone to dust and water, there is no escape.
  4. Leave your ‘high society attitude” behind. The more you resist, the more you are attacked ! enjoy instead
  5. People are generally not cheap and do not misbehave. If you are touched inappropriately -revolt!!
  6. People in Mathura are beautiful and helpful. Treat them with respect.
  7. Avoid slippers, watch your step inside the temple.
  8. Ignore hygiene. You missed it if you haven’t tasted the lip smacking Kachoris, samosas, puris and pedhas. Mathura does not have non-veg food.
  9. Colors used are harmless and ecofriendly and will wear out in a day, so do not worry.
  10. There are good security arrangements in the entire vicinity, do not panic!
  11. Though its safe to travel solo, first timers could be part of a group to ensure important events and timings are not missed. Groups are fun!
  12. Dance with a Sakhi. Strike a conversation. Brush someones face gently with Gulal and chant Radhey Radhey! See what it does to you!
  13. REVISIT!

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Samaaj in full swing

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6 Comments on “From Mathura…with love

  1. That’s an excellent blog and awesome photography Gauri. Had never known so much about Holi in Mathura and that it would be so wonderful. Thanks for the awareness

    Like

  2. Once again, amazing pictures. You go a long way through this.
    And the blog-it gives you all you’d want to know about the famed holi before visiting. Very well-written.

    Like

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