Radha Kund, 2017.03.17 (Vishakha Dasi for Vrindavan Today): At this point I thought Holi was over; but boy, was I wrong!
The day after Holi I caught a ride with the ODev crew, as they were also going to Radha Kund. I went straight home, put down my bags and took a little rest. In the evening I realized there was no food in the house, so I went out to buy some tomatoes at the vegetable market on the Western bank of Shri Radha Kund.
But when I got there, I found that the vegetable market had been replaced with some kind of party!
There was a trellis of lights strung above, and many Brajwasis gathered around. And in the center, men were parading in a circular formation holding canes in their hands, and women followed them, each one holding a smaller stick. The ladies were gorgeously dressed in sparkly saris, carefully folded with the end pulled over their faces to create a full veil.
Tap, tap, tap! The women lightly tapped their sticks on their male escorts’ canes.
“How sweet!” I thought. “This is like Lathmar Holi Lite! Look at how gently they are playing. What a funny tradition.” I thought.
Tap, tap, tap! went the ladies’ sticks as they continuously circled around. The men softly sprinkled flower petals and glitter on the women and the crowd.
Then suddenly one of the women broke formation and started whacking men in the crowd hard with her stick!
The men scattered, laughing and trying to avoid her blows. Still, she got in a few good hits before coming back to the circle.
“Oh!” I said to myself. “This is much worse than Lathmar Holi!! Why the heck isn’t this famous? This should be famous! The men don’t even use shields!”
Again and again, women broke the line and started beating men in the crowd. They especially targeted hands, arms, legs and backsides. These ladies didn’t just ceremoniously strike the men – they hit them hard! I was surprised by how willingly the men accepted the beating!
As filmi songs and modern popular bhajans blared over the loudspeakers, one Brajwasi gentleman sprinkled me with yellow gulal. Holi was most certainly not over.
Later I interviewed some people in the community to get a better idea of what I had just seen.
The first Brajwasi I spoke to was very helpful. I can’t recall his name, but he is the one who sells the best pakoras in town from his cart across from his family chai shop. He explained that this was Radhakund’s “Huranga” – a kind of post-Holi continuation of Holi. (The Holi afterparty, if you will). It would go on for a long time – he was not sure exactly how long, but at least a week and perhaps more.
Different castes, communities and neighborhoods would play on different days in different parts of the village. The Huranga I had just seen was the oldest and most traditional one, which was that of the Brahmin community of Radhakund. Indeed, I had recognized a few of the pandas and pujaris in the ceremony.
This afternoon, Sanjay Khandelwal, who runs the phone shop near Shri Madanmohan Mandir, kindly explained the mood behind Radhakund’s Huranga festival.
“After playing Holi, some of the ladies become angry, because some men put too much colour on them. So the next day, she comes with a stick and plays Holi by beating the men. That is the bhaav. The man who walks with her is there to protect her while she plays.”
“Did you also play?” I asked.
“Yes, the day before yesterday.”
“Which of the ladies in your family play? Only married ladies?”
“Yes, only married ladies. My wife, my brother’s wife, my mother…”
“I noticed in Nandgaon and Barsana they play Lathmar Holi, but the men have a shield to protect themselves. But here in Radhakund, they play without shields!”
“There the ladies have a big stick, but here they use much smaller sticks!”
“Yes, but I saw that the men are really feeling a lot of pain… in their hands, in their legs… but they’re smiling. It looks like they are enjoying it!”
“Yes,” Sanjay ji replied. “Because of Radha and Krishna’s prem.”
I smiled at Sanjay ji’s mysterious answer. My only remaining question was, “What is your favorite part of Holi?”
“Every part of Holi is my favorite,” he replied with a smile.
Even now, as I write this, I can hear the beating of the drums as yet another round of “Huranga” play continues in Radhakund’s bazaar. It feels like the Brajwasis never tire of playing Holi. I saw the best pakora salesman in Radhakund earlier this evening. He was in the Huranga round, lathi in hand, arms raised high with the biggest smile on his face as he shouted “Haribol! Jai Shri Radhe!” It was like this day’s Holi was the only day. It was as if it was all brand new, and would never grow old; like he could go on playing forever.
Unable to find an end to this Holi festival, I can only bow in the lotus footdust of these Brajwasis and put this series to rest.
Till next year, Jai Jai Shri Radhe!!