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Forty Days of Holi

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Vrindavan, 2017.02.01 (VT and Krishnaa Kinkari): Today, the Holi season began in Vraj- Vrindavan with Vasant Panchami. The festivals continue for the next forty days. The following is a beautiful overview of the forty days of Vraj Holi by Krishnaa Kinkari Devi. It is included in her book “Spring Season Songs for Seva: Hori Rasiya and Dhamar.” Though it is told from the Pushti Marg perspective, her overview covers most of the Vraj Holi events in general. The entire book is an excellent guide to Holi, with a large collection of songs sung throughout the Spring in Vraj, including both the original Braj Bhasha texts and their English translations. The following excerpt has been slightly modified by the editor for Vrindavan Today.

The Holi Season in the Holy Land of Vraj is totally unqiue. After all, Vraj Bhumi is “Bhaav Bhumi”, where devotional sentiment for the Lord is the basis of all activity. So here we present, in chronological order, a background to Vraj Holi for those not familiar with it, and an insight into the poems sung during this period.

Vraj Holi is very exciting. It is hoped the reader will gain a glimpse of its glory.

Holi ke Rasiya

The special musical styles sung during Holi, especially the “Rasiyas” are very typical of Sri Vraj Dham.

Vraj is a land where the main activity has always been the protection of cows, and where wealth was traditionally measured by the number of cows one owned. Most of the population were cowherds. (gopas) In fact, Shri Krishna is the Son of a cowherd family, the Hero of them all! In the Spring season He, together with His Most Beloved, Shri Radhika ju, is the Star of all the Lilas. From this has arisen the wordings, the cheeky mood and the tunes.

The songs in this mood and style, most joyously describing the interaction with the Lord, are themselves called “Rasiyas” and they do, of course, describe the play and the character of the Supreme “Rasiya” Himself - the Lord who loves to interact with His dear devotees in this very special and intimate Holi play. Here religious principle spills into everyday life - surrendering oneself body, heart and voice exclusively to Him.

It is difficult to put an exact date to the birth of this musical tradition; however, the upsurge was definitely in the bhakti kalin yug [around 560 years ago], when the Raas Lila tradition was founded with the influence of the Bhakti Acharyas of that period - Sri Vallabhacharyaji (Pushti Marg), Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhuji (Gaudiya Sampradaya), Sri Haridas (Haridas Sampradaya), Sri Hit- Harivamsji (Shri Radhavallabh Sampradaya), and others, whose lineages continue to this day, preserving the original ways of raag seva - service to the presiding Deities of Vraj through music and literature.

Significant Dates of the Season

Magh Shukla 5: Vasant Panchami
Magh Shukla 11: Jaya Ekadashi
Magh Purnima: Hori Dandaropan
Phagun Krishna 7: Shri Nathji ko Patotsav
Phagun Krishna 11: Vijaya Ekadashi
Phagun Shukla 8: Holikashtak Arambha
Phagun Shukla 9: Barsane ki Holi
Phagun Purnima: Holika Pradipan
Chaitra Krishna 1: Dhurendi
Chaitra Krishna 2: Dolotsav
Chaitra Krishna 2: Dwitiya Patotsav

Forty Days of Holi

One of the reasons for the pada - Jaga Hori, Vraja Hora - “the rest of the world plays Holi whilst Vraj plays Hora [ie. very extensive Holi]” - is that in Vraj the festival lasts a full 40 days, whereas elsewhere it is just a couple of days around the Magh Purnima.

The forty days of Vraj Holi run from Vasant Panchami (magh shukla 5) to the full moon or purnima day (magh shukla 15), and thereafter the whole month of Phalgun from Phalgun Krishna 1 until Phalgun Shukla Purnima. They spill over into the first couple days of the dark half of Chaitra as well.

The first ten days are known as the uddipan lila - “arousal” - and the next thirty days are known as the “avalamban lila” - the sustenance and continuation of the bhava. It is in this second period that the ‘dhamar’ style is played.

The first ten days are characterized by the sattvik play of the sattviki gopis, peaceful and sweetly colourful, the next ten by the rajasi - more active and noisy. The third set of ten days is for the “tamsi” type bhaktas - rowdy and very very wet and colourful - and the fourth for the nirguna bhaktas (transcending all worldly rules and restrictions). In this way, all the spiritual emotions (bhavanas) of every type of devotee are fulfilled throughout the extent of the Holi period. The play is such that all their loving needs are satisfied by Him and none other.

Significantly, Sri Thakurji’s white vastra (clothes and backdrop, etc) become progressively more coloured. The initial gentle play gathers momentum throughout the extent of the play and as the moon becomes full!

Shri Harirayji has written a wonderful text named ‘Hori ke Bhav- bhavana” in which he has attributed many meanings to the articles of play within Vraj Holi, like the red, pink and white powders with which the play commences, then the yellow and the green (a combination of blue and yellow, the blue of Sri Thakurji and the gold of Shri Vrishabhanu Dulhari). The saffron [kesar] used to colour the water is said to represent Shri Swaminiji; the pink of the gulal, Shri Lalitaji: the white of the abhir, Shri Chandravaliji, and the black of the chova, Shri Yamunaji.

Red and pink are universally recognized as the colours of Love, especially the crimson colour in which the heart symbol is depicted. These interpretations of Shri Harirayji are very fascinatingly detailed and recommended as an additional read.

The wet play consists of the spurting of water from water guns known as “pichkaris”. This water is scented with attar, palasa and jasmine flowers, and saffron. It brings an orange tint to everything, creating the total “vasanti” atmosphere. At the end of a day of vigorous play in the Havelis, in front of Shri Thakurji, the floor is (as are the players) coated with “kich”, like a mud of fragrant wet and dry color.

On Vasant Panchami (magh shukla 5) the Spring Season beings! Trees and flowers begin to throw out new shoots; animals come together to procreate. It is the Season of Love. This season and Cupid are very good friends! In fact, it is Kamdev’s (Cupid’s) birthday! Lusty love begins to blossom as Kamdev uses the Spring environment to manifest himself. Cupid, in fact, first of all sends this season in order to ensnare candidates for his purpose.

In these Holi celebrations of Vraj, the Lord personifies as Cupid, the God of Love. Thus the impulses in everyone’s hearts are purified by being divinely directed and brought into the Realm of Divine Lila. The music, dancing and beats are exciting and all- absorbing. Here we see the irrefutable attraction of the Lord’s own land of Vraj. The hardest impulse to control, selfish lust, is taken over by the Lord and drawn in towards Him. Sri Shyama- Shyam are the zenith of Pure Loving Mood and in this season of Holi, the devotee is delightfully transported into the arena where the Beloveds make Their play momentarily public, so that even these emotions are fully directed towards the Divine.

Sri Gusainji initiated the practice that, from this day until the end of the play, the Lord’s swaroop’s feet are covered to divert the devotee’s mind away from the mood of master and servant over to one of friendship and familiarity in Love.

In Vraj, the Lord is Madanmohan, Manmatha Manmatha - the Enchanter even of Cupid, the Churner of the mind even of him who churns the mind - and He makes sure that every one of the senses is attracted towards Them alone. When Sri Thakurji defeats and becomes Cupid Himself, then the devotee’s every need is satisfied.

The Loving Play of Holi defeats lust - the selfish sensual love of the body. Sri Thakurji is thus Adhidaivik Kaam: Spiritual Love personified.

[Editor’s Note: On Vasant Panchami, yellow is the theme. Shri Radha and Krishna are dressed in yellow and offered saffron- accented yellow foods in bhog. The first touch of Holi colours is offered on this day]

Holi Dandaropan - Magh Shukla 15 (Purnima)

On this date, ten days after Vasant Panchami, on the full moon and usually in the evening, a flagpole is erected to predict the lighting of the fire on the following Purnima (full moon night) and to establish the sacred space and the initiation of the ensuing period of the expression of Divine Love.

Flammable articles are gathered there to burn. It is the official recognition that the festival is in full flight, and that the ultimate day, the lighting of this fire, is approaching. It is also a chance to clear out the old clutter (spring cleaning) and bring in the new grains of the season, as well as other items, which bring with them a renewed surrender to and awareness of the Lord’s latest plans!

This is in itself an act of cleansing. It is the transition from the stagnant winter to the fresh new year and brings inspiration, with the physical and mental space cleared, to go forward with elevated intention. Here we see how the social activities are so closely blended with the Srimad Bhagwatam teachings [see below re. Holika Pradipan].

From this day on, the dhamar padas are sung through every event in the Holi calendar.

Because of the usual evening time of this event, the padas for this day tend to be, [in addition to Vilaval] in the evening ragas of Sorat, Gauri and even Vihagaro.

Sri Nathji ko Patotsav - Phalgun Shukla 7

There are two Patotsavs during this season. A Patotsav is the celebration of the establishment of a new ‘throne’ or place of residence for a great celebrity or governor, here for Sri Nathji who is the greatest Celebrity in the Universe, and the King of Vraj.

This first Patotsav is for the occasion when, in Sri Gusainji’s absence, his seven sons led by Shri Giridharji, the eldest, took Shri Nathji to their residence (Satghar) in Mathura, where He resided for a couple of months and played Holi together with all of them there. During this time all the attendant devotees pledged everything they had to the Lord, even the nose ring of one of the small female children present at that time.

Sri Krishna now carries a stick and a ball made of flowers, and from here to the end of the season the Rasiya songs begin to be enthusiastically sung by all.

Holikashtak Arambha - Phalgun Shukla 8

On this day, the lead up of eight days to the culmination of the play begins with the lighting of the Holika fire.

Since the play is at its most vigorous at this time, during these eight days weddings and other auspicious rituals are not performed.

Varsana ki Holi - Phalgun Shukla 9

Socially, Holi is a festival of fun and outspokenness. Songs full of insults are sung to the Lord. Men and women gather at the shrines and sing and dance to the seasonal rhythms - this is followed by the “horanga play” which has a slightly varying character in each of the Vraj villages. In several of these, the ladies dress up in their finery for battle and the young men of the village have to escape lashes from the ladies’ sticks. This is called lathmar holi.

The most famous Lathmar Holi takes place in and around Rangili Gali,- “the Colourful Alleyway” - in Shri Barsana Dham. It occurs on the ninth day of the bright half of the month of Phagun. Men from Nandagaon - Krishna’s village about eight kilometers distant - come in a musically charged procession to Barsana. To get up to the temple they must climb up the steep pathway of that Rangili Gali where beautifully dressed and adorned Vrajavasi ladies emerge fully veiled from their houses wielding long sticks with which they beat the shield- bearing men over the head as they dance in a squatting stance.

When they finally manage to reach the top of the Path, at Shri Radharani’s temple, an exciting festival of wet and dry colours overtakes everyone and all of this is accompanied by the seasonal music focusing on the drumbeats, often played on nagadas - huge drums played by four or more men at the same time, that are so big they need to be on wheels ot move. This signifies that the climb up to total bliss, at the Lotus Feet of Shri Radharani, the Queen of absolute Joy, can be fraught with divinely imposed danger - but that one must be willing to humble oneself and dance to the divine tune before one attains the state of actually playing within the Lord’s own realm.

Before any of this can occur the “Hori ko nyoto” (invitation to the Holi Play] must be given. How they are exchanged is fully described in two longs songs called “dhamar pande ke pad” where the Pande is the Brahmin responsible for delivering the invite. One goes from Nandagaon to Barsana and one from Barsana to Nandagaon, and these invitations are the precursors of the most prestigious event in the Vraj Holi calendar.

The beats are infectious, and the whole area turns into a dancing crowd, coloured from head to toe in fragrant wet and dry colours. The sky fills with clouds of colour and the music never stops.

Kunja Ekadashi - Phalgun Shukla 11

From this day on, the “Gari ke Dhamar” are freely sung! There is a gamut of scathing insults given, and other words usually considered most improper are bantered about. The Holi play permeates every Nikunja and, in the Seva, the decoration arrangements entail flowers and greenery creating a garden- like atmosphere.

Holika Pradipan - Phalgun Purnima

In the seventh canto of the Shrimad Bhagwatam, we read the accounts of the life of the great devotee Prahlad, son of the enormous demon Hiranyakashipu. The latter was most distressed by the unshakeable devotion of his son for his enemy Shri Krishna, and tried to have him killed in many ways.

Prahlad’s sister, Dunda, had performed austerities and gained a boon from Lord Brahma called the “sheetal chunari” (cold veil) which meant that she could not be hurt by fire. Hiranyakashipu told her to take her brother into the fire with her so that he would die whilst she survived. Faced with this dilemma, Prahlad’s chanting of the Lord’s Name, his faith in the Lord and acceptance of His Divine will, never faultered and the Lord took the veil from Dunda and wrapped Prahlad in it, so that she perished and he did not. Here we learn how solid devotion conquers all.

There is a village in Vraj, Phalen, where a nominated Brahmin, after bathing in Prahlad Kund (lake) walks over burning coals.

When the new grains of the season are harvested, some of them are roasted in the fire and then distributed. Corn cobs are roasted and shared. This ceremony celebrates the new abundance and the recognition of the merit of sharing with the whole community. When persenting these items to each other, the people meet and greet each other in a very friendly way (Hori Milan). A good atmosphere is created to set the stage for the rest of the year. This is the last day of the month of Phalgun

Dhurendi (Dhuli Vandan) - Chaitra Krishna 1

Originally, until not too long ago, this day was a very enthusiastic day of play - a last surge before putting away the colours, pichkaris and the instruments, etc. until the next year. Family and village groups would visit each other to play and offer new clothes and greetings. They would often travel in processions, sometimes led by a bhaddava (the most mischievious person of the troupe, like a jester type) who would lead the folk with cheeky enthusiastic dancing and song. Ladies could also openly join in the play and foodstuffs were shared. All ladies who played were offered the “phaguwa” gift, the traditional appreciation of their participation. This gift would vary from clan to clan, and sometimes be of quite a special character! (see the related padas)

Nowadays, however, this day is usually a day for ladies to stay at home as gangs of uncontrolled individuals throw dyes and paint at each other and even ambush cars, etc.

In these days, varying from place to place, “horangas” begin - social gatherings which often feature the ladies being allowed to beat male relatives and villagers with sticks as they dance in an allotted area. These games are played in good spirit and give the ladies a chance to get their own back.

Dolotsava - Chaitra Krishna 2

On this second day is also celebrated the Dolotsava, where Shri Thakurji sits in a swing to enjoy the coming of the warmer season.

In her Vatsalya bhava, Mother Yashoda, seeing how very vigorous her Son’s play has become, brings Him home and entices Him to enjoy the swing and to calm down enough to sit and partake of some food offerings! She cleans all the remnant colourings of the Holi play from the walls and floors of Nandabhavan.

The dark half of Chaitra runs its course and the actual new year starts at the beginning of Chaitra Shukla Paksha on the Samvatsara festival (Chaitra Shukla 1).

Until the next Holi, the Bhavas retreat into the Nikunjas and the Secret lilas retreat into the interior. This is why Holi is so dear to everyone when the Play becomes open for participation.

Dwitiya Patotsava - Chaitra Krishna 3

This is the second Patotsava where Shri Nathji returns to Jatipura, Shri Girirajji. After all the play has been enjoyed, the devotees re- iterate their total devotion and surrender to the Lord, the opening of their hearts to Him, their ever- present desire to see and serve Him, and their offering of absolutely everything that they have and are, to Him. In fact, it is a matter of regular routine for the devotee to make the place (paat) for the Beloved to reign within their heart, keep it suitably pure and enjoy their constant union with Him.

On this day, the Beloveds’ feet are uncovered and the dasya bhava is reinstated

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