This celebration of Holi, the Hindu festival of colors, is more of a local celebration. In Uttar Pradesh, Lath Mar Holi is played few days before the day of Holi in the towns of religious importance, Nandgaon and Barsana, which are located near Mathura.
Thousands and thousands of Hindus from all over India gather here to be a part of the celebration and witness the exotic and grand act of Holi.
This Holi includes special customs and traditions and is celebrated only in few places.
According to the legend, on this particular day notorious Lord Krishna had gone to his lover, Radha’s village and teased her and her playmates in a playful manner. The women of Barsana took offence at Lord Krishna’s pranks and chased him back to his own village, Nandgaon.
This playful tradition is kept alive even today as all the men of Nandgaon goes to Barsana all together every year only to be welcomed by women carrying sticks or lathis in order to beat them playfully for their mischief. In the act, the women of Barsana throw the sticks at the male visitors who try to protect themselves as much as possible.
If they fail to protect themselves and flee back to their village and in turn get captured by the women of Barsana, those poor men are forced to dress up in female costumes and are made to dance in front of everyone as punishment. The Radha Rani temple dedicated to Radha is located in Barsana and is the only Radha temple in entire India. Every year on this day people from all over the country gather to be a part of the celebration and witness the act in which women beat up men with sticks in a playful manner replicating the scene in which Lord Krishna was chased away for teasing Radha.
The songs narrating undying love between Radha and Krishna and Lord Krishna’s mischief are sung along with it. On the very first day of the festival all the shepherds of Nandgaon go to the neighboring village of Barsana to play with the shepherdesses there and it begins at the famous Radha Rani temple. On the next day the shepherds of Barsana go to Nandgaon to play Holi with the shepherdesses living there. Following the rule of tit for tat the Barsana men invade the village of Nandgaon only to smear the women of Nandgaon in the exotic colors of palash and kesudo.
On this day it is the turn of the Nandgaon women to beat up the Barsana men for drenching them in colors. The men are seen to sing songs having provocative lyrics only to tease the women and attract their attention. In between the act the onlookers and the participants cool themselves down by drinking a special traditional drink thandai and drinking another drink made up with cannabis called bhang, which has an intoxicating effect and thus heightens the playful mood.
On this day all the people, forgetting all their differences, come together to be a part of the celebration and merrymaking and hence thus this festival strengthens bonds. The preparation of this festival starts months before its arrival and the women of Barsana are the ones who are the most excited. The mother-in-laws are seen to take special care of their daughter-in-laws and feed them healthy food so that they can prove their strength on the special day and can out do the men from Nandgaon. The Lath Mar Festival also empowers women and sends a message of equality. It is filled with fun, frolic and excitement.