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A Holi Journey with the Sakhas of Nandgaon: Part 1, Arrival and Laddu Holi

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Radha Kund, 09.03.2017 (Vishakha Dasi for VT): A few days ago I went to Nandgaon (नन्दगाँव) to attend the festivities surrounding Lathmar Holi. I was thrilled, because I knew it was going to be a total immersion experience.

I had a special invitation through a friend of a friend – a Goswami of Nandgaon’s main temple – to stay at his family’s home and enjoy every aspect of the festival along with them.

Our trip was to last three days. The first day would feature Laddu Holi, in which laddus (ball-shaped sweets) would be thrown. That day was also the beginning of holikashtak – the eight main days of Holi. (In Braj, Holi techinically starts on Vasant Panchami and lasts for 40 days!) The second day would be Barsana’s famous Lathmar Holi, and the third day would be Lathmar Holi in Nandgaon. Lathmar Holi is a unique celebration in which the village women dress up in their finest clothes and ceremoniously beat the men from the neighboring town. The festival is a huge draw for Krishna devotees (and photographers) around the world, but neither my friend or I had attended it before.

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I had also never met our host before, and I had no idea what the living situation would be like in Nandgaon, so I packed light and left my laptop at home.

In my mind, the accomodation was going to be extremely austere. Perhaps we would be sleeping on someone’s rooftop or in a courtyard, in the open air with cement bricks for pillows! My friend and I even wondered if we should bring a tent. But just as we were about to leave Radhakund, we got word back from our host that tents and sleeping bags were not necessary – everything we would need was there at home.

And thus the three of us – my friend, her young son and myself – started our journey to the glorious Nandgaon!

I drove my scooty (motor scooter) all the way there for the first time, while my friend caught a ride in someone’s car. The fields on the way were absolutely lush and gorgeous, and I found myself fighting the urge to stop at different places and explore.

There are so many places to see in Braj! I have lived here for almost ten years and explored quite a bit, yet there are so many stones left unturned!

At last we reached our destination – Nandgaon!

Nandgaon is the hometown of Shri Krishna and His brother, Balram. It’s the place where the divine brothers live eternally with their parents Yashoda and Nand – the King and Queen of the cowherd clan.

The central attraction of the village is the temple of Krishna and Balram, situated on a hill, which is called Nandishwar Parvat. Nandishwar Parvat is said to be a form of Lord Shiva. Similarly, the palatial home of Shri Krishna’s Beloved, Shri Radha, is atop the hill called Brahmachal – a form of Lord Brahma. And of course, near Radhakund we have our beloved Govardhan Hill, who is a form of Krishna Himself.

Our host – Krishna Murari Goswami – lives just at the foot of Nandishwar Parvat, not far from Yashoda Kund. We found him standing in the doorway of his home with a big smile as soon as we arrived.

The house was a typical Brajwasi home of cement and bricks, but fairly large in size, with an open courtyard where the women cooked on the chula (clay stove). Soon we were treated to a delicious lunch of handmade chapatis (flatbreads) and pulses that had been farmed organically on the family’s own land. They also very sweetly gave my friend’s son a yellow bagalbandhi to wear, so he would fit in with the other “cowherd boys”. We immediately felt at home.

 

Krishna Murari Goswamiji is only nineteen years old. He is lean and jovial, with good English and excellent manners. As a child he studied at the ISKCON Gurukul in Vrindavan (I noticed several awards for academic and behavioural excellence on the bookshelf) and according to his mother, his home recieves many guests from abroad.

It seems Krishna Murari Goswamiji had invited everyone he knows to attend this festival, but somehow we were amongst the few who were able to come. Still, the house was full with many extended family members, and we ended up cozily sharing a room with five or six of them.

I soon found out that our host has a real love for the stories of Shri Krishna. In fact, he didn’t really speak about anything else the entire time we were there, which was delightful. That first afternoon he was immersed in readying himself for the upcoming festivities, but he made sure to steal away some time to share some translations he is doing, as well as an article he is working for Shri Sachinandan Swamiji.

Here is a short excerpt from that article, which has already been published by Sachinandan Maharaj’s Facebook page. You can read the full article here.

मुकुट वारौ रे मुकुट वारौ तेरी करैगो
हाथ लकुट कंबर की खोई
वे तो सुर ही गाऊन कौ रखवारौ
इन्दर कोप कियौ ब्रज ऊपर
वानै मूसर धारा जल डारयौ
सूर दास प्रभु कुँवर मिलन कूँ
याने बाँयें हाथ गिरवर धार्यौ

mukut vaaro re mukut vaaro, teri karego
haath lakut kambar ki khoi
ve to sur hi gaun kau rakhwaro
indar kaup kiyo braj upar
vaane musar dhara jal daaryo
soordas prabhu kuwar milan ku
yane baaye haath girivar dharyau

On Vasant Pancami, Madhumangala and Sridham are conversing with the gopis in Varsana. The gopis are asking the gopas, “How are you going to enjoy Holi this time? As far as we are concerned, we will color you from head to toe and we will definitely defeat you at Lathmar Holi.

The gopas replied to this sweet challenge with the following song:

O, gopis! Do you know who will color you the most this time? It is the bearer of the peacock feather and the bejeweled crown. He will definitely color you the most.

“He holds a bejeweled flute [and cowherding stick] in His hands and wears a single garment made of a blanket, which engulfs Him from head to toe. He is the only devata who protects the cows. He will color you.

“The king of the gods, Indra, displayed his anger by sending torrents of heavy rainfall all over Vraja. At that time He was the only one who protected the land of Vraja. He who is known as the savior of the whole Vraja will color you.

“Even the great poet Surdas affirms that He, just to have a close meeting with His loved ones, held the greatest of all mountains (Girivar) on His left hand. He will definitely color you this time.

Through this conversation the gopas promised or challenged the gopis in the name of Krishna and even the gopis too well accepted the challenge.

The gopas then informed Krishna and Balaram, and the other cowherd boys about his sweet conversation with the gopis.

Even today this sweet conversation is told to Krishna Balarama in Nandagram at Their shayan arati during the month of phalgun (Holi month). Because it’s bedtime, shayan arati is usually sung softly. But on this occasion big kettledrums are brought into the chamber before the altar and with a lot of joyful noise this song is sung – just to remind Krishna and Balarama that the Nandagram gopas have promised the Barsana gopis that Krishna will color them. So in order not to forget this promise, not even in Their dreams, the Nandagram gopas are reminding Krishna and Balarama even at the time of Their sleeping.

I asked Krishna Murari Goswamiji to tell us a little bit about the first day’s ceremonies, and he obliged with great enthusiasm.

“Today the gopis from Radharani’s side are coming to invite Krishna and Balram for tomorrow’s Holi in Barsana. They have come with a pot of colour [gulal], and they will offer it to Krishna and Balram saying, ‘Oh Krishna and Balram! We have come on behalf of Srimati Radharani. You are invited to play holi in Barsana with all of Your cowherd boys, so come tomorrow! When they see that Krishna and Balram have accepted their invitation, they will return to Barsana and there will be laddu maar holi (throwing of laddus).

“Then in the evening there will be singing. And through that singing, we will tell everyone that tomorrow we are invited to Barsana to play holi, so everyone should decorate themselves and be prepared for the festival. And in the morning everyone will prepare their shields.”

“What are the shields made from?” I asked.

“They’re made from some type of rubber, and bound with ropes. You’ll see that, and you will also help in decorating them nicely. And once we decorate them, we will go to Krishna and Balram and say that – ‘Okay… You are calling us? We will come to accompany You! Then they [the Goswamis in the spirit of Krishna’s cowherd boys] will sing and dance and show their shields like this [gesturing]… jump it so They know – ‘Ok! Krishna Murari is bringing this! Oh, Haridev is bringing this!

“Then everyone will get some small amount of color and put it here [in a cloth tied around the waist]. I will make a pocket like this, a place where I can put the color and just take the color from there. That is meant for that… that is called phenta. Then everyone will start; they will go to Nandishwar Mahadev because, you know, Lord Shiva is our security guard. He should also be invited with the mood that, ‘We are going to Barsana to play Holi… you should also come. You are living in our house, so how can you not come?’ Then everyone will know that Lord Shiva is also invited. Once everyone is invited then they go to one very old temple where one Baba was living – they go and invite him and his deities.”

image2-e1489088554520.jpgAround eleven in the morning we proceeded to the temple and had darshan of Shri Krishna and Balram with Their parents. We loved watching how the Goswamis, with the mood of Krishna’s sakhas, danced so joyfully to the music along with the sakhi-vesh-dhari devotees who had come from Barsana. Our host himself danced from the moment we arrived until long after my friend and I went home. It was apparent how much these Brijwasis had looked forward to this day.

My friend and I enjoyed in our own way, strolling along the temple’s rooftop, enjoying the spectacular view, and later playing Holi with children on the stairwell of the temple entrance. I personally enjoyed peeking under the rooftop canopy alongside some little boys, just because Brijwasi kids are so much fun to hang out with.

After coming back home for a short rest and lunch of Brijwasi rotis and sabji, we proceeded to Barsana by scooty to attend the Laddu Holi ceremony. It was a really beautiful program where Holi rasiyas were sung under a thick mist of pink powder, and then suddenly the Barsana Goswamis began to throw laddus from the rooftop. In the form of laddus and red color, it was like bliss was raining down on us, celebrating the fact that Shri Krishna had accepted Radharani’s invitation for Holi.

I had a big smile on my face as I thought, “There they are! Laddu Holi’s laddus!” 

There were many more people desiring laddus than there were laddus – and I guess the uncertainty made it all the more satisfying when one actually caught one. I did not catch a laddu but someone who did offered his laddu to me, and I saved it to give to a certain mahatma.

We lingered for some time at Shriji Mandir then proceeded back to Nandgaon, had prasad with our host family and again went to the temple in Nandgaon for Samaj Kirtan. During this kirtan the special gulal from the pot sent by Radharani in the morning was scattered upon the heads of all the present Goswamis, and some of it was taken home by them as Prasad.

Halwah was also distributed, to ensure the boys had sufficient strength to face the Barsana women the next day. I ate some as well, hoping it would help me get to the top of Shriji Mandir in the rush, and take lots of pictures for this article!

The ceremonies of that first day were lovely, but the most precious thing was the association of the local people, the Brajwasis. It would not have been the same without them, for we would not have had the chance to witness a drop of the beauty of their love for Shri Krishna.

Many of the Goswamis I met, like many other Brajwasis, could resemble coconuts at times – a rough exterior, hard to penetrate, but full of sweetness inside. I appreciate and worship them the way they are, but I also felt happy that our host’s mood was different – he just let himself be known with his natural sweetness and enthusiasm. I was really thankful for that because so often, many of us find ourselves stuck on the outside.

And I felt very fortunate just to be there, because for us, these places, Nandgaon and Barsana, are our eternal Home.

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