Come 7th and 8th March 2023, the entire country will be drenched in colours, for it will be time for the festival of Holi. But, if you have had enough of the regular celebrations in your city or town, visit Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana to witness the grandest Holi celebrations on earth. Read on to find out more:
The region of Braj, which encompasses the three towns of Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana, was the childhood home of Lord Krishna. The young boy was jealous of the fact that Radha was fair, while he was dark. His foster mother, Yashoda, advised him to smear his face with gulal and do the same to Radha so there won’t be any difference in their complexion. Thus began the tradition of Holi celebrations in the region.
How to plan the trip
Holi celebration in Braj go on for about a week, so it is better to keep ample time at hand for the ultimate experience. The festivities start in Barsana and Nandgaon, pick up in Vrindavan and then culminate in Mathura.
Holi in Barsana and Nandgaon
This is the place where the celebrations begin the earliest, usually a week before the day. As per the tradition, men from Nandgaon come to Barsana to apply colours on women who, in retaliation, hit them with sticks or lathis (playfully, of course). This is known as the famous Lath Maar Holi of Barsana, which you might not want to miss. A day after the celebrations in Barsana, the Lath Maar Holi is played in Nandgaon but this time the women visit the men.
Holi in Vrindavan
From Nandgaon and Barsana, the festivities proceed to Vrindavan and this is where they are at their craziest. On the day of Holika Dahan (which falls on the day of Ekadashi as per the Hindu lunar calendar), Phoolon Wali Holi is celebrated in Vrindavan. At around 4.00 pm, the gates of the revered Banke Bihari Temple are opened to let in a swarm of people, who enjoy a variety of flowers being thrown at them by priests, for 20–25 minutes.
On the day of Holi, the Banke Bihari Temple witnesses the grandest festivities – the kind of Holi everyone is accustomed to with people throwing and smearing gulal as well as coloured water at each other. Throughout the city, Holi celebrations are accompanied with Bhajans and other spiritual songs blasting at full volume.
Another notable event to witness in the town is the Widows’ Holi. In Hindu culture, widows are often forced to wear austere, white clothes and avoid celebrations. However, 2-3 years ago, a group of widows defied all customs by indulging in the Holi festivities at Pagal Baba Widow Ashram. Since then, the celebrations have caught on, and now every year, widows throng Gopinath Temple to play Holi. The temple’s gates open around 12.00 pm, so before attending the Phoolon Wali Holi, you must come here.
Holi in Mathura
The celebrations in Vrindavan end around 2.00 pm, after which Mathura is the place to be at. A vibrant procession is carried out through the streets of the town, from Vishram Ghat to Holi Gate, with children dressed as Radha and Krishna riding on chariots. The procession is at its grandest around 3.00 pm, so be sure to be there by then.
After the procession, the time for Holika Dahan comes in the evening. Huge piles of wooden planks and tree branches are made and then set afire at the opportune moment, as per the panchang (the tabloid record wherein the auspicious times for religious events are noted).
On the day of Dhulendi (or Holi), grand celebrations are organised at Dwarkadhish Temple. But, before you visit the temple, you can head to Vishram Ghat to see bhang being prepared and, may be, try a glass. Be ready to reach Dwarkadhish Temple at 10.00 am, when the Holi of gulal and colours begins.
The festivities don’t end here… A day after Dhulendi, they pick up at Dauji Temple outside the city. Here, women rip off men’s clothes and beat them with their own torn-up garb. Despite it sounding ugly, it is actually fun as the beating up is quite friendly.
Where to stay
Finding accommodation is no problem as there are loads of guesthouses, dharamshalas and budget hotels in Mathura and Vrindavan. Just remember to book your room in advance, as you might not find any if you look during the Holi week.
How to reach
Reaching Mathura, Vrindavan and Barsana is quite easy as loads of buses ferry travellers to these destinations from Delhi on a regular basis. Alternatively, you can hire a cab and make it a personalised road trip. Delhi and Mathura are 183 km apart and the drive between the two cities via Yamuna Expressway takes roughly 3 hours 20 minutes. It is preferable to keep an eye out for Holi-special trains too, if you don’t prefer to travel by road.