Holi hai! It’s Holi! A member of our pilgrimage group looked at us in disbelief after we came back from a Holi festival at the temples of Vrindavana. She called out „How is this connected with religion?“ I must admit, it's not so easy to understand what is actually going on during Holi!
Over the last couple of years, The Festival of Color has become a very popular event around the world. Of course, mostly in a rather commercial way, with no spiritual meaning whatsoever. In the West only few know, that it was Radha and Krishna who originally throw color on each other. According to some, Krishna once approached Mother Yasoda, concerned about His dark skin and whether the faired skin Radha would like Him or not. Yasodamayi then suggested Krishna to go to Radha and color Her face with any colors He wanted. Krishna then smeared colors on Radha and the Holi festival was born, at least what is known as Rangwali Holi or the Festival of color.1
Many times I was here in Vrindavana during Holi and I usually retreated in my room and waited until the streets again became `safe`! But some years ago I wanted to get some experience of Holi in Vrindavana. Here are some memories of that:
While walking down the narrow streets we noticed that the closer we got to the temple, the more colorful the people around us appeared! Green hair, yellow shirts, pink faces - Even the policemen in front of the temple had streaks of color on their cheeks. When the first clouds of color approached us at the entrance we quickly turned back. `Let's get some color powder too`, we thought; after all, we do not want to enter 'unarmed'! Shortly after, with some bags of color in our pocket, we ventured into the temple…
I could hardly believe what I saw there. It was really wild! The crowd pressed towards the altar yelling `Holi hai! Holi hai!’ as if at a rock concert, but instead of a rockstar, the beautiful form of Krishna, worshiped as Banke Bihari, was the centre of attraction. And He was probably the only one Who remained spared from being dyed — the Deity was under a large plastic dome!
As I stood in front of the altar to give Krishna a flower garland, I got a good dose of colored water sprayed in my face as a reward for my offering. The priest, equipped with huge water pistols, obviously had fun while performing his seva today! But that was not all - it really started when the priests put their water pistols aside and got forty-liter milk cans filled with colored water. They just poured all that water over the crowd. And as if that wasn’t enough, they came back with big bags of color powder which was thrown at us. For a while, nothing else was seen than banks of color clouds!
A good hour later we left the temple, from head to toe full of color. The Brijvasis in the streets were happy with our appearances. `Happy Holi` they called out with smiling faces. Our evening was not yet over, we still had an invitation to the Holi festival at Radharaman Mandir. Everything seemed a bit more sophisticated there. Radharama, the venerable Deity, standing in front of a curtain of flower garlands, was offered a beautiful arati, some devotees of Krishna sang Holi Bhajans, songs that described the festival of color, and others danced elegantly.
Then the Holi celebration began: The priests first smeared the dark cheeks and chin of Radaraman with pink colors and then threw the first powder as Maha-Prasadam, blessed colors, on the visitors. The rhythms of the tabla became faster, the voices louder and the dances more ecstatic. Suddenly we were also in the middle of the festivities, wrapped in pink and yellow clouds of color, dancing to the sounds dedicated to Sri Krishna …
The memory of the colorful festival remained visible for a long time, the powder seemed to stick particularly stubbornly in my ears and my feet and toenails were pinkish even after several weeks!
This year, I will again retreat in my room! I guess I am ok with simply writing about the colorful experience. I wish you all a wonderful color festival. Holi hai - it's Holi!
1 - Story — unknown source. Another beautiful description of how Krishna and the Gopis celebrated Holi can be found in Srila Kavi Karnapuras `Ananda Vrindavan Campu `, Chapter 14. Holi is also known as ‘Holika Dahan’, which refers to the burning of the demoness Holika, the Sister of Hirnyakasipu. Holika, who had mystic powers to resist fire, made Prahlad sit on a pyre with her. But by the Lord's intervention, it was not Prahlad who burned to ashes but Holika. In this way, a Holika bonfire is lit every year to remind us of the victory of good over evil. Some refer to Holi also in connection with Lord Shiva destroying Kamadeva. For many it is also known as simply the spring festival, marking the end of the winter.