(The author, Navaldeep Thareja, is part of ABRFL Jaypore’s Private Label Sourcing and Production team. His work takes him to clusters, villages and little-known places across Indian states to meet craftsmen, artisans, weavers and tribal people for designs and more.)
On entering Braj, I was struck by the sight of women travelling around on bullock carts, in this quaint and historic region located on both sides of the Yamuna river, with its center at Mathura-Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh.
Braj is a region that is culturally and traditionally rich, as this is where Lord Krishna used to go with his Sakhas to play with Radha and her Sakhis. Having served as Lord Krishna’s playground once,the entrance of Braj Bhoomi captivated me with its remarkable works of art.
These have been painstakingly created by local women on cow dung cakes, inspired by frescoes of ancient temples and old havelis. So fine and intricate is the detailing of the design, that its beauty draws you in, almost immediately.
Braj Bhoomi emulates the joy and mischief from the time when Radha and her Sakhis used to play Holi with Krishna and his Sakhas at Barsana and Nand Gaon. To this day, the same spirit is seen in the month-long festivities at Braj, with Laddoo, Phul and Lathmaar Holi being celebrated by people from both villages.
The excitement surrounding Holi was present in the air a week in advance, as the Barsana Holi continued for two fun-filled days, followed by Nand Gaon Holi. On the first day, people of Barsana and nearby villages gather at Radha Rani temple in Barsana and play Holi with laddoos. The unforgettable moment was when the priests showered us with laddoos, drenched in ghee.
The next day, I could only see deep, rich shades of red all around me. On this day, people from Nand Gaon visit Barsana and are welcomed with colors and colored water made from Kesu/Palash flowers. The beauty of these celebrations is that only traditional orange, pink and red are used, without any chemicals and dark colours; giving me a chance to look at the lively and spirited fabric of Braj.
The day of Lathmaar Holi was truly a sight to behold, mimicking the playful back and forth between Lord Krishna and the Gopis. On this day, men invade streets of the village, singing provocative songs to invite the attention of the women. The women responded playfully by using long and thick sticks (Latth Latthis) to beat the men, who protected themselves with shields.
Holi at Braj has truly stayed with me as every household in every street participated in the vibrant celebrations. The love, laughter and joy was such, that mother-in-laws feed excess ghee, milk and nuts to their daughter in-laws a month before Latthmar Holi, to give them the much-needed strength! This spirit of Braj truly does highlight the unique and beautiful nature of our decades-old culture and heritage.