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Unique Lath Maar Holi draws crowds to Braj Mandal

Posted on Mar 21, 05:47PM | IANS

Barsana (Mathura district) March 21 : Hundreds of pilgrims from many parts of India and some foreigners joined together Thursday to celebrate the famous Lath Maar Holi at Barsana, regarded as the birthplace of Radha, playmate of Sri Krishna, in Hindu mythology.

The much-awaited celebrations began around 4 p.m., and the path to the famous Radha Rani Temple, which sits atop a hill, was the site of much shouting and singing. Holi revellers gathered with gulal and abeer -- fragrant flowers and coloured powder used during the celebrations.

Traditionally, "gopis" - referring to cowherd girls in the yore and to girls these days - from the Braj area armed with lathis or rods pounced on "gops" (men) from Nand Gaon, a few km away. The men used shields to cover their heads.

"This is spectacular, soaked in ecstatic religious frenzy," said an NRI pilgrim from Canada.

The gops -- also called huriyaras -- reached Priya Kund in procession at about 3 p.m., walking to the beat of drums and other musical instruments.

After a traditional welcome with a drink of 'bhang' -- cannabis sativa which is popularly consumed in Mathura region as also elsewhere in north India around Holi, they reached the chowk at the foot of the hill leading to the Radha Rani temple to play Holi with the gopis.

"This is no ordinary Holi. The gopis rain lathis on the gops. Preparations go on for about a fortnight," said priest Ram Babu Sharma, who serves at the Radha Rani Temple.

Wednesday was "Laddoo Holi", when laddoos were thrown in the Radha Rani temple.

Once the Lath Mar Holi celebrations conclude at Barsana, similar celebrations wil be seen Friday at Nand Gaon, a few km away.

On March 23, Holi will be celebrated at the Sri Krishna Janam Bhoomi (birthplace of Lord Krishna) complex in Mathura. This will be followed by Holi at the famous Dwarkadheesh temple, and at other places across the Yamuna river.

In Vrindavan, preparations are on for a unique Holi to be played for the first time by widows, a section traditionally ostracised and barred from celebrations.

"This will be a path-breaking event that will set in motion a process of social transformation," said social commentator Paras Nath Choudhary.

Talking to IANS, Choudhary said: "Hundreds of widows look forward to the riot of colours, marking a departure from Hindu tradition, which bars widows from such celebrations. As a symbolic gesture, they will play Holi with flowers this year, not colours. Some 800 widows are expected to participate in celebrations March 24."

Many of the widows are beneficiaries of a monthly grant from Sulabh International, an NGO which has stepped in to provide a life of dignity to the women who earlier sang bhajans at temples for a fee, and were often seen begging on the streets.

"Celebrations by widows would change not only them but also the mindset of society," Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, said.

A frail widow from east UP said: "Holi here will be like nothing that has happened before, and help end social prejudice against widows."

As part of the celebrations, the traditional "Raas-Leela" dance and other programmes are also being organised at the ashrams in Vrindavan. Celebrations for the widows would begin Sunday, just ahead of Holi, and end March 27.